This Former Girl Scout Is Proving Why Girls Belong In STEM Careers

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We’ve all heard some version of this statement before: Girls just aren’t as good at math as boys. Perhaps we’ve even believed it. Some might even take pride in it as if being bad at something that is perceived to be difficult somehow makes us more feminine and therefore more desirable to the opposite sex. But what if that statement simply isn’t true? Maybe having a particular chromosomal lineup doesn’t dictate a person’s aptitude in a subject. Maybe it’s just another limiting belief imposed by society to keep women in “their place.”

Meet Anna Sheppard, a graduate student in aeronautics and astronautics at the University of Washington. She is good at math, among many other things, and she has been that way since she was a young girl. 

Anna grew up with parents who recognized her natural interest and aptitude in math and encouraged her to pursue it. She was in third grade when her dad suggested she consider studying engineering. Then in sixth grade, Anna went to space camp and there was no looking back. After receiving her undergraduate degree from the University of Michigan, she commissioned into the Air Force, where she worked on propulsion integration and in-space propulsion devices. 

In Earth terms, part of what she’s working on is identifying the most effective, efficient, and least toxic fuel that isn’t super heavy to get to and from space. There’s also research into discovering if there are materials that could be converted into fuel for the return trip back to Earth, meaning you could leave Earth with enough to get where you’re going, then refuel in space for the ride home. 

Math is integral to all of those things, but Anna also points out that you don’t have to be perfect at math — after all, we have computers now. The most important thing is following your interests and passions, ideally within a community that encourages your belief in yourself. 

Anna is a Gold Award Girl Scout, the highest honor one can achieve in the organization. Today, she has continued her commitment to inspiring young girls to pursue careers in STEM by speaking with Girl Scout troops, as well as her ongoing work with the Women in Aerospace Club. Anna knows the value of having role models; for her, it was her parents and the supportive environment of the Girl Scouts, which shares a core belief that girls have unlimited potential.

I enjoyed speaking with Anna about math, space, shattering glass ceilings, and what it takes to leave gravity far behind. I hope you’ll be inspired by our chat, and come back soon for the rest of our Gold Award Girl Scout Video Series.

Tags: Education, Girl Scout, Gold Award Girl Scout

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Written By

Simbi Hall

Filmmaker Simbiat Hall graduated with honors from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts with a double major from the Institute... See Full Bio

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