Eileen Vergino is passionate about science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). Her desire to see more women and girls in STEM first brought her to WISER in 2017 and she’s been a WISER enthusiast ever since. We spoke with Eileen to hear more about her interests in STEM and what drives her to champion the WISER girls.
W: How did you first get involved with WISER?
EV: I first got involved through [WISER Board Member] Carrie Arndt, who is a family friend. When Carrie told me about WISER, I was very intrigued and immediately interested in the mission because I have been working on getting women into STEM fields since the beginning of my career. I tutored girls in science and math in high school and college, worked in STEM for many years, and focused on getting women interested in the field because no one told me when I was younger that it was a path I could pursue. I was told that I could be a nurse, or maybe even a doctor, but not a scientist because girls couldn’t be scientists. The best way to encourage girls is with role models, and when I heard about WISER’s work to create role models and get girls into STEM, I knew I wanted to be involved.
I started reading about WISER then and the statistics were so impressive. This is an area where young women were not finishing high school or moving to post-secondary education, and where they didn’t have many opportunities. Now, the number of girls graduating each year and coming back to their community to give back after graduating is just incredible.
W: What does WISER’s mission mean to you?
EV: To me, the mission of wiser is to give these girls the opportunity to go out into the world and be anything they want to be — to think about themselves both locally and globally. I’m so impressed that the WISER girls think about their role in the world, what they can give to the world, and how they can give back to their community, even from a young age. When I was at WISER, I loved spending time with the girls as they thought about problems, brainstormed solutions, and thought about how they could change their communities for the better. They really do care and think about that all the time. They’re not thinking about themselves. They’re not me-centered. They’re centered on ‘we’ and ‘us.’ That’s incredibly powerful. WISER has done so much to contribute to this mindset by building a school in a rural community and providing such hands-on opportunities. It creates a series of concentric linked circles where girls are thinking locally and globally about what they can contribute. For me, that’s impressive. They don’t see any limits. That’s very powerful.
W: What do you think is the most important work that WISER does?
EV: I think the most important thing is exposing the girls to role models and ideas that are beyond their local community. It’s giving them the opportunity to dream. When I think back to my earlier years, I didn’t have role models. I had parents who told me that I could do anything if I worked hard, but no role models of other women who were doing those things. When I went to MIT and suddenly had a few women role models, it was really powerful. You need to be able to see that it’s possible. If that representation doesn’t exist, it’s really difficult. WISER offers these opportunities to young women to dream beyond their local environment. They’re dreaming of how they can bring back more to their own community, not just how do they can leave and get out of there. I interviewed girls when I was at WISER and what struck me the most was the notion that girls weren’t trying to escape their environment – they were trying to leave so that they could return. They all spoke about how they could bring something back to help their families and communities.
W: What do you hope WISER will achieve?
EV: I’d love to see WISER expand to reach even more girls. It’s so powerful to see the school doubling in size while keeping the quality, and I’d love to see it grow even further. In the long term, I’m excited by there being a large network of WISER alumni. A group of women around the world who are linked by their shared experience at WISER, particularly their STEM experiences that will spark their curiosity and problem-solving abilities – that will be very powerful. It will become a lifelong connection. These women are strong leaders and I know they will go on to create change.
W: We so appreciate your enthusiasm and support. What do you wish other people knew about WISER?
EV: I wish people understood better how powerful WISER is in creating opportunities for these young people. For a small investment, the return is enormous.
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If you’d like to learn more about how you can make an impact like Eileen has, please contact Zack Fowler at [email protected]