Breaking the STEM Gender Gap: An Interview with Sofia Aschettino

By Rosanna Cappetta, Age 25

STEM-field

It is not a surprise that women are underrepresented in the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). Traditionally, the STEM fields have been dominated by men. Despite the under-representation of women in STEM, it does not mean that women are incapable of pursuing a career in one of these fields. Recently, more and more women have been pursuing educations in STEM thanks to the growing number of programs aimed at exposing young girls to these areas and making it possible for them to pursue education in related fields. In an effort to promote a career in STEM, I have decided to dedicate my blog post to an intelligent, creative, determined and successful young woman- who also happens to be my cousin! Sofia Aschettino is a junior at George Washington University. Despite the challenges, Sofia decided to pursue her college education in a STEM related field. Although she is younger than me, she inspires me and continues to amaze me with all that she does. I hope that by reading her story, others- especially young women- will be inspired just like I am.

Q: What is your major?
A: I’m majoring in Systems Engineering with a minor in Business Administration. Systems Engineering is defined by INCOSE (the International Council on Systems Engineering) as “an interdisciplinary approach and means to enable the realization of successful systems. It focuses on defining customer needs and required functionality early in the development cycle, documenting requirements, then proceeding with design synthesis and system validation while considering the complete problem.”

Q: When did you decide that this was the major you wanted to pursue?
A: I have always been fascinated by the business world and the marketing industry. I was also fortunate enough to not hate mathematics and STEM related fields. As a daughter of a Structural Engineer and a Business Executive, I was exposed to both worlds as a child and I became interested in both. Although I always knew I didn’t want to be a Structural Engineer, I couldn’t write off the area of STEM as a whole. When I started to look at colleges, I knew I wanted to enter the business world, but I also wanted to bring a different skill to the industry: technology. Throughout the college application process, I found myself applying only to business schools until a major caught my eye at GW’s accepted students day – Systems Engineering. Although an engineering major, I believed it would prepare me for a business career that would enable me to interact as a liaison between the business teams and the technology/software engineering teams.

Q: Have you ever felt like giving up because of the difficulty and demanding nature of your area of study?
A: Every day. I am constantly struggling to put my challenging coursework into the perspective of how much it will help me in my future endeavors. I study for hours to receive average grades. As someone who would be upset with Bs in high school, I have come to terms with not always acing my courses because I realized that it is not about how well you did on the test, but how much you have learned and how easily you can apply that knowledge to real life experiences. Although I knew these four years would be an uphill challenge, I keep on working with the hope that one day I will look back and think of how I built myself a solid platform to jump off into the real world. Now let’s hope I hit the ground running!

Q: Have you or anyone you know faced adversity in respect to your STEM courses?
A: Yes, a very good friend of mine once went to speak to a mutual professor regarding her worries about the course we were taking. As a tenured male professor in a field that is predominately male dominated, he went on to encourage her to drop the class because “as a female” she was bound to struggle and not do well.

Q: What and/who keeps you going despite these difficulties?
A: Whenever I get a bad grade or am feeling insecure in my ability to continue on this path, I know to call my mother. She has always been someone I can turn to when faced with challenges. I know she will help me take it one step at a time, move past the difficult times and remember my ultimate goal. She has always been great at refocusing me. As someone who faced adversity and created her own path towards success as an executive in a Fortune 500 corporation, she was able to dream big at a time when women were expected to stay at home. She was the first in her family to go to college and she didn’t stop there – she went on to completed her undergraduate degree in three years and even when on to obtain a master’s degree while working. She has been a role model for me and has always told me that I will succeed in my dreams, while also reminding me to be ready for the inevitable times of setback and failure.

Q: Are you involved in any groups, activities, internships, etc to help you achieve your goals?
A: I am an executive board member of GW Women in Business (GWWIB), an undergraduate organization whose mission is to open young women’s eyes to the opportunities that await them in the business industry. I am one of the chairs of GWWIB’s annual networking trip to NY. This year I helped plan an amazing trip where we will be conducting site visits to AOL, BBDO, Creative Artists Agency, Google, Macy’s, and Morgan Stanley. We will also be partaking in an alumni networking dinner through the GW School of Business.

Also, I have been fortunate enough to have spent three semesters at the American Advertising Federation based in Washington, DC as an intern in its special events and marketing department. I have learned so much about the advertising and marketing industries. I was also given the opportunity to network and be in the company of c-suite level executives across the industry. AAF has led me to great mentors and a set of skills that will no doubt help me in achieving my dream.

Finally, it was through AAF and a personal network that I was able to land my past summer internship at BBDO, a world-renowned advertising agency headquartered in New York City. I spent my summer working with the account management teams assigned to the MARS portfolio, including the following chocolate brands: Dove, M&M’s, Snickers and Twix. I was able to observe as well as participate on incredible advertising campaigns. My experience was one that will be truly unforgettable.

Q: What are your future career plans? Dream job?
A: Fortunately enough, I have this idea for a technology/business niche role that is becoming increasingly popular. Data and technology is becoming an integral part of the business industry, and I hope that with its popularity and my background I will be able to land a position that I can enjoy.

My dream jobs would be to work at Google or Huge Inc. as a product manager, data analyst or strategic planner where I can study the data or behavioral norms of consumers and create a strategy that will lead to successful sales.

Q: With respect to the STEM field, is there anyone who inspires you?
A: I am in awe of any women who has overcome the struggles to land a role of leadership and power in an industry that many believe to be”the man’s world”. Whether directly related to the STEM field or not, I love to meet women and hear their stories. It inspires me to follow suit and achieve my dreams.

rosanna

Q: What is your advice to other girls looking to pursue an education/career in STEM?
A: Be ready for a fight, but don’t be intimidated by it. Remember that the best things in life don’t come easy. Take a risk and don’t be discouraged if it doesn’t always work in your favor. Most importantly, do what you want and don’t let anyone tell you that you cannot do it. I was just recently told that “you can achieve anything if it is achievable”.

Young Women Rising encourages Connecticut women ages 18-35 to raise their voices about issues they care about. Each writer speaks for herself as an individual and Young Women Rising as a whole does not intend to endorse the views of any particular writer. If you’re interested in submitting a guest piece please contact us at Michelle.Noehren@cga.ct.gov.

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