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This week, NASA graduated its newest class of astronauts. Out of over 18,000 applicants from around the United States and its territories, only 12 people were selected, or less than 1 for every 1,500 who applied. The most impressive aspect of this newest round of NASA grads? Nearly half are women.
Since the beginning of the space program in 1959, only 350 astronauts have been chosen; these five new female astronauts join their ranks after completing up to two years of training at NASA’s Johnson Space Center. This is a huge win for women in STEM—and the STEM community itself, a workforce currently comprised of just 13% women in engineering alone, according to the National Science Foundation.
As we’ve witnessed more and more women slaying their STEM goals in real life, we’ve also seen a shift in pop culture representation of female role models and female-centric narratives, both online and off. Stories of drive, determination, and grit have grabbed the spotlight in mainstream media and the new “Golden Age of Television.” TV series have given us the women of Orange is the New Black, GirlBoss, Girls, Chewing Gum, House of Cards (Claire Underwood), The Handmaid’s Tale, and many more. These stories feature strong female characters who push for what they want and they work their asses off to get it. Many of these characters are working in nontraditional jobs and often break stereotypes with their unique personality traits, giving the audience the opportunity to choose role models who may have been considered atypical—or been non-existent—just 10 years ago.
One of the most compelling ways to find current, real life role models is by turning to Instagram. The social media platform has become a go-to for women to share their dreams with others, gaining thousands of followers and inspiring similar accounts where other dreamers can share their journeys too. On the daily, Instagram gives voice to millions of stories from women who are not afraid to pursue their dreams and are willing to take you along on their day-to-day, whether it be filled with ups or downs — something that is important to bear in mind as we forge our own journeys, as no one story is built solely on successes.
On Instagram, you’ll find dynamic STEM women like Astronaut Abby, (@AstronautAbbyOfficial) who cheers for women in science and aspires to be the very first astronaut on Mars. Holy (@codegirlcode), a coder by day, is a tech advocate who runs the lifestyle magazine UNTOUCHD — a publication that encourages women to pursue careers in tech. Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg (@sherylsandberg) uses her account to showcase the inclusive efforts of her female-focused nonprofit, Lean In, which aims to empower women to achieve their ambitions and advocates for the next generation of female leaders. These are just three out of millions of examples of women in leadership roles advocating for a stronger female presence in male-dominated industries.
Because the majority of Instagram’s users are on the younger side and the platform boasts a large female audience, these types of accounts are important in driving girls and women to acquire the skills they want by using their smarts, determination, and grit. Paired with the upturn in strong female role models, real and fictional, there are more ways than ever to share and cultivate our movement into STEM. There are more ways to reach out for help, and it is easier than ever to find women to look up to and ask for advice — something that is extremely important as we strive to change the face of the STEM community.
As we rocket into the future—propelled by talented, gritty, determined pioneers on all sides of STEM—let’s continue sharing our stories and championing women who use their considerable talents to blaze new trails, seek new horizons, and explore new frontiers. Our lives and our world will be better for it.