Mia Su of the Bio-STEM Club: “Don’t hesitate to ask questions”

Don’t hesitate to ask questions. Organizing the Girls Ask event with Young Women in Bio last year, in which students ask their questions to professionals in STEM, was one of my first times organizing an event. It was confusing sometimes but asking for clarifications and communicating with the other side made things so much easier. As […]

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Don’t hesitate to ask questions. Organizing the Girls Ask event with Young Women in Bio last year, in which students ask their questions to professionals in STEM, was one of my first times organizing an event. It was confusing sometimes but asking for clarifications and communicating with the other side made things so much easier.

As part of my series about young people who are making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Mia Su.

Mia Su is currently a student in the Honors Health Sciences program at Marianopolis College in Montreal, Quebec. As the co-founder of the Bio-STEM club at The Study and the S’Unir Pour Soutenir volunteering club at Marianopolis, and as the 2021–2022 Young Women in Bio ambassador for the Greater Montreal Area, she is passionate about inspiring the youth in her community and empowering young women to pursue their dreams in STEM. She seeks to give young women the passion and perseverance to become leaders in the field and to make a difference in the world.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit how you grew up?

I had a happy childhood, but that doesn’t mean there were no challenges. From a young age, I did competitive figure skating. Even though I enjoyed it, the training was rigorous, and it was difficult to continue improving and competing, especially as work from school began to pile up. Eventually, I realized that figure skating was not for me and quit to focus on school. Even though that journey didn’t last as long as I had wanted it to, it still taught me the valuable lesson that perseverance is key. This lesson helped me later on, when I instead decided to pursue a career in medicine, which is bringing its own set of challenges.

You are currently leading an organization that aims to make a social impact. Can you tell us a bit about what you and your organization are trying to change in our world today?

I’m one of this year’s Young Women In Bio (YWIB) ambassadors for the Greater Montreal Area, and our goal is to empower young women to become future leaders in STEM. Right now, women are still discouraged from pursuing careers in these fields, especially in certain minority communities that still hold traditional values surrounding gender. For example, some women are told that being a trophy wife is the highest form of accomplishment a woman can achieve, and that the workplace is not where women belong. We want to remove those barriers and give young women the support they need to fully reach their potential and their dreams in STEM.

Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?

I was originally attracted to this cause because of the small acts of sexism I witnessed around me on a daily basis. I often heard people say things like women were not as smart as men were, that it was natural for them to make less money than men, or that as a woman, my prime objective in life should be to find a partner. I was disappointed that people still held such beliefs, and that even though our society has progressed so much technologically, it lagged behind socially. This motivated me to try to remove this stigma surrounding women and to encourage them to pursue their goals in STEM regardless of what other people say. It also motivated me to encourage others to make a difference in the world.

Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions, but never manifest it. They don’t get up and just do it. But you did. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were actually going to step up and do it? What was that final trigger?

There wasn’t a specific “Aha Moment” that encouraged me to step up and do it. As time went by, I became more acutely aware of the injustices women face, which pushed me to begin taking action. In addition, as I got more confident as time went on, I decided to take up more and more opportunities that presented themselves. In high school, I realized that I had the ability to make a difference in my community, and that no matter how small it was, any contribution could be significant. With the help of a friend, I co-founded the Bio-STEM club, which had the goal of introducing various STEM careers to its members and of allowing them to explore different topics in those fields. The experience I gained from this gave me the confidence to take up other opportunities to further my goal of empowering women, such as becoming a YWIB ambassador.

Many young people don’t know the steps to take to start a new organization. But you did. What are some of the things or steps you took to get your project started?

For the two clubs I started, the process of starting things up was relatively simple. I began by sending some emails proposing my project to the people in charge. After getting their approval, we simply began outlining club activities and contacting organizations to help us out. For example, for the volunteering club S’Unir Pour Soutenir, I contacted various schools and community centers to try to set up volunteering opportunities. Next, we advertised our club to students in our schools. Once we got a list of members, we sent out emails and polls to find out what activities they were interested in, then modified our club activities accordingly. Finally, we began those club activities!

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?

The most interesting thing that happened was the Girls Ask series we filmed with YWIB, where we had invited five guest speakers to speak to our school about their career path and to answer any questions students had. It was such a new experience to be on the organizing side of an event. I was slightly nervous about whether this initiative would be helpful for students, or if they would even find it interesting. However, I was glad that the event went by without a hitch!

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson or take away you learned from that?

There weren’t that many funny incidents in our club, but one funny thing that happened on our first meeting was when random people began joining the Zoom call. It turns out I sent the link to the wrong email addresses, and that resulted in a very confusing first meeting before I figured out how to remove people from the call. The lesson here is that you should always double check who you send your emails to!

None of us can be successful without some help along the way. Did you have mentors or cheerleaders who helped you to succeed? Can you tell us a story about their influence?

I really want to thank my friends for supporting me along the way. From helping me brainstorm ideas for what to do as a Young Women in Bio ambassador to planning club meetings with me, they were always there to support me. I still remember the time I called my friend until one in the morning about what to do after the competition our club originally planned to participate in was cancelled, and all the emails we wrote together to our teachers and members.

Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

A person who has helped me out a lot throughout this journey is Mariam Karim, who founded the Bio-STEM club with me and is another co-founder of the S’Unir Pour Soutenir volunteering club. Both of us are from communities that still hold traditional discriminatory views of women, and we both wanted to change that. We decided to cooperate, and since then she’s been an amazing partner and friend. We always worked together to plan out club activities and events to inspire our members, and I’m extremely grateful for her help and for continuing to work for this cause with me.

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

One thing that can be done to help solve this problem is to present more female role models in STEM to children. The movies and TV shows I grew up with never portrayed women in leadership positions in STEM. On social media, our feeds are always flooded with images of women who are actresses or models, but never scientists and engineers. I believe this discourages girls from developing an interest towards STEM and sends the message that STEM is not where women belong.

Another thing that can be done is incorporating more female figures into our education system. The history we learn about and the modern leading figures we study all tend to be male, and the contributions of women are often ignored, which may give students the impression that a male-dominated world is the natural state of things.

Finally, another thing that’s important to do is to organize more STEM competitions and events dedicated for young women. This gives them the opportunity to learn and bond with like-minded people, which may give them the support and confidence necessary to continue pursuing a STEM-related career.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

  1. Some people may disagree with what you are doing. Other students sometimes told me that what I was doing wasn’t worth the effort, or that it was nerdy. I think there’s a lot of pressure to fit in and to not take on initiatives that could make you stand out, but you don’t have to listen to what others say.
  2. Ask others for advice. It’s a really good idea to ask other people with more experience for advice. I had no idea what steps to take or how to plan out activities for my club but asking friends who had done this before was very helpful.
  3. Set a clear goal. Setting a clear end goal gives a more specific direction to work in, which makes planning out the steps a lot easier. For Bio-STEM, our initial goal was participating in the National Biology Competition, but it was cancelled midway through the year. Without a clear goal we were left directionless for a bit before we redefined our purpose to helping students explore careers in STEM through the creation of a schoolwide newsletter.
  4. Things may not always work out. For the S’Unir Pour Soutenir club, we ran into a lot of difficulties setting up volunteer opportunities in certain sectors such as healthcare because of Covid. Things don’t always work out the way we expect them to, so staying flexible is important.
  5. Don’t hesitate to ask questions. Organizing the Girls Ask event with Young Women in Bio last year, in which students ask their questions to professionals in STEM, was one of my first times organizing an event. It was confusing sometimes but asking for clarifications and communicating with the other side made things so much easier.

If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?

I often hear other people say that even if they tried to make a difference, there’s no way their individual contributions could make an impact on the world. I think this is a major reason people don’t consider trying to make a positive change in their societies. However, I want to tell them that positive change doesn’t just take the form of large-scale world-changing acts, such as ending world hunger or solving the climate crisis. Small actions people take to help others still make a difference, and the accumulation of those small actions could eventually result in large-scale change, which is why any amount of help is extremely important.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

I’d love to meet Malala Yousafzai! I think it’s admirable how she has such conviction for women’s education that she put her own life in danger. It would be great to hear about her experiences and to get to understand her perspective about the situation of women in the Middle East, where women suffer much more injustice than here in Canada. I would also love to ask her about how she achieved such a huge impact on the world, even with all the disadvantages she faced.

How can our readers follow you online?

You can reach me on Instagram at mia.s.2017!

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!

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