As we commemorate International Women’s Day, we celebrate the accomplishments of women everywhere who have made great strides within the engineering realm.
Recent estimates show that women make up only 10% of all aerospace engineers, with that number being even lower when women of color are considered. Aisha Bowe, however, is a perfect example of a woman who has beat those odds to become an aerospace engineer at NASA as well as the CEO and founder of STEMBoard.
“If you would have told me ten years ago that I was going to work at NASA and start a company, I would have thought that you were crazy,” Bowe said. “If you told me 20 years ago that I was going to graduate from the University of Michigan, I wouldn’t have believed you.”
Bowe’s story has helped her become a motivational speaker to others that are looking to follow in her footsteps. “Stick to your script. Trust your gut,” she says.
After attending community college, Bowe transferred to the aerospace engineering program at the University of Michigan in the hopes of one day working at NASA. Through a joint program, her mentor offered and encouraged her to take a job at NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California. Bowe calls this moment the first of many experiences that changed how she viewed life.
“Going up to my building door every single day and looking at something that is historic, and putting context to that,” said Bowe, “that I, as a young, African-American woman could have even gone to school at the University of Michigan, a place where I may not have been able to attend 50 or 60 years before, and I can also gain an opportunity to work at NASA, who’s judging me not on the color of my skin or anything other than my academic qualifications … is just staggering to me.”
During her time in the Bay Area at NASA, Bowe began to have interactions with groups focused on minorities in engineering. “When I would tell kids that I was an aerospace engineer, they would look at me like I had ten heads,” she said. “I realized that most students don’t have a clear understanding of what engineering is, nor what we do, so I wanted to challenge that.”
Her interactions with these groups are what led her to start doing tour groups for children. As she increased her interaction, she began thinking of ways to continue having that experience but also nurture her love for technology. This sparked her creativity and thus led to the creation of STEMBoard.
“What I realized was, it was a golden window for me to start to build a parachute,” Bowe said. “I want to be technical, I want to give back, and so we founded STEMBoard to do that.”
STEMBoard has founded tech camps with an emphasis on teaching high school students to be entrepreneurs as well as technically proficient. The program, which now reaches from the Caribbean to California and the D.C. area, focuses on pushing students to develop solutions to everyday problems.
While STEMBoard also has ties to engineering consulting, Bowe says that outreach will continue to be the company’s foundation.
“We’re focused on elevating the prospects for the historically underrepresented,” she said. “All of our programming is focused on organizations that have that as part of their mission as well as communities that have traditionally been underserved.”