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 From a young age, 18-year-old Anjali Chadha fell in love with science. So, like most kids, she followed that passion. Unlike most children, however, Anjali turned her love for science into an entrepreneurial journey.

When she was only a freshman in high school, Anjali created the nonprofit organization Empowered, of which she is now the CEO, for minority high school girls to learn technical skills while being connected with minority women entrepreneurs in their community.

“This is something that has shown me that in our city, there are institutions and schools and organizations that do a really good job to bridge the gender gap, but most organizations, not just in our city but also throughout the county, are not like that,” Anjali says. “We should look at the ones who do a good job and try and spread those models.” 

Anjali isn’t the only one who has noticed the gap. Research shows that the gender gap in STEM is not only real, but that there’s a pattern. According to the National Science Foundation, the gap begins to widen in higher education and continues as women are underrepresented in the science and engineering workforce.

The solution? To expose kids, especially girls, to STEM early on in their education. 

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DuPont Manual High School, Anjali’s alma mater, runs a Math Science Technology (MST) program that’s designed to prepare students for STEM-related fields in any academic program at any college they choose to attend. Students apply their freshman year and, if accepted, are required to participate in the program for at least three years. Vicki Lete, assistant principal, says with the plethora of rigorous STEM classes, kids are “exposed to college-like classes so that when they come through our program and they go to another school, they’re going to perform really well because they’ve been exposed to such high rigor.”

In addition to the courses available, students at Manual are able to compete in competitions like Science Olympiad, both regional and local science fairs, and more.

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One particular club at duPont Manual, Women in Science and Engineering (WISE), ensures more girls are participating in STEM. This past school year, 40 girls joined the club, which partners with Bowen Elementary for the annual WISE Expo, where fifth graders can learn about STEM topics through various fun activities like an elephant toothpaste demonstration and a building activity with marshmallows, frosting, and toothpicks. “It’s making sure girls have an opportunity for STEM, and we support kids in that program,” Vicki says. 

Across the river in New Albany, Indiana, Prosser Career Education Center –– the largest career education center in the state –– has been providing students a different route for studying STEM. Prosser allows students from multiple schools to learn STEM through hands-on courses. Schools are able to save money on equipment and teachers by having the students travel to this one location.

“We continue to fight the stigma as far as what career technical education does and what it provides for individuals,” says Principal Nancy Campbell. “Our goal is to give kids the opportunity to be successful after high school.”

While bridging the gender gap in STEM is a big goal, Prosser is also working to change gender roles, for both sides, when it comes to career choice. By exposing girls, and boys, to “nontraditional” work like welding or nursing, Nancy says, “we’re making progress.”

For Anjali, learning about STEM is a way to understand the different areas of knowledge that explain life and human existence as a way to “contextualize what is our place in this world.”

“I think what’s de-emphasized about STEM is how creative it can be,” Anjali says. “It’s really a matter of learning skills and figuring out how to apply them, and that’s something I believe anybody can do.”

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The 18-year-old attributes her love for STEM to her upbringing and schooling. At home, Anjali grew up with two parents who work in the STEM field. Anjali’s mother, Vidya Richandran, is the co-founder of GlowTouch Technologies –– a customer support and software development company. Her father, Vikram Chadha, also co-founder of GlowTouch, is the co-founder of Backupify –– a cloud-to-cloud backup and recovery solution for SaaS applications, including Google Apps, Office 365, and Salesforce. 

Growing up around philanthropists and entrepreneurs, it’s no wonder how Anjali found her taste for business. She says her parents have each taught her different lessons. “My dad [has taught me] to always be open-minded, curious, and a lifelong learner. My mom [has taught me] to be persistent, believe in my mission, and put forth 110 percent effort to make it happen,” Anjali says. 

“I definitely owe a lot of the success I’ve had with different opportunities to my parents, who have contributed their time, feedback, and moral support throughout the years.”

Anjali says the greatest aspect of her family’s work is that it’s consistently mission-driven. Whatever her parents undertake, she says, begins by considering who will be affected and how can they help those people. “They do not quit until they have achieved the vision that they set out to realize,” Anjali says. “They’ve truly taught me to focus on maximizing impact and being purpose-oriented in any task.” 

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P.S. She had always planned on entering into the education field and now she helps others.

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