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STEM to Flower: Youth Changemakers' Initiative Spotlight #2

After a brief hiatus, I am officially back with another youth organization to spotlight for the blog’s ChangeMakers Feature: STEM to Flower! It was such an honor to speak with the co-founders of this pioneering organization and learn about all the positive impacts they are striving towards implementing on both a regional and global scale. 

This 501c3-certified nonprofit organization is committed to bridging the gender gap in aspects of the sciences where females and other marginalized groups are underrepresented. Via science competitions, tutoring programs, and personalized activity kits, students from underfunded schools as young as four years old have the potential to light a spark of passion for learning. 

Though based in Long Island, New York, STEM to Flower’s initiative has international representation with members from departments such as Research and Social Media/Outreach. Core values central to their operations include spreading awareness through social media about systemic gender inequalities and establishing a foundation for young girls to pursue careers in the sciences. 

Of course, I had to reach out to co-founders Senuki Elvitigala and Linsey Shen to explore the inspiration behind their goals of deconstructing stereotypes and blooming STEM passions in young girls through fun and empowering activities.

Now it is time for the fun part: our interview feature! I asked the founders of STEM to Flower several questions about their ambitions and origin story, which are transcribed and compiled below…

Question 1: What was your inspiration for starting your organization?

“As I was going to high school I got more interested in going into STEM so I was more into the parameters of being a woman in STEM,” Linsey said. “I saw all these different inequalities that persist like enduring prejudices, discrimination, and stereotypes. So that started my inspiration for this. I realized the prevalence of gender inequality in the STEM fields and why I should be doing something in the real world to change it.”

From a young age, both Senuki and Linsey were aware of the inherent stereotypes ingrained in popular consumerism, especially within STEM products targeting youth. 

“I have a twin, and when we were younger we were interested in Legos and stuff like that. We noticed that, comparatively, the Legos given to young girls were much more simple or much less engineering-focused than those given to young boys,” Senuki said. “Linsey and I were able to kind of reflect that idea in one of our most recent [library] programs where you use Lego blocks to make a coding Lego maze.”

Question 2: What is one event or initiative you ran in the past that you feel encapsulates your organization’s mission?

Here, the founders wanted to feature two events that resonated with them and reaffirmed their confidence as they worked towards ambitious goals. According to Senuki, a memorable moment occurred during a Long Island program at a Brooklyn chapter.

“We didn't know a lot of what we were going to expect because it’s an unfamiliar location and it was our first program…the turnout for the place was a little lower than we expected because we had advertising issues. But I think that it still was an inspirational program that we did because we ended up getting advertising on the spot and still getting a few members to come from the library…we made anatomy hands out of cardboard.” 

Linsey spoke about her experiences during her school’s Astronomy Night held by the National Honor Society. “It was kind of our first big fundraiser. We were able to raise over 200 dollars, so that kind of just inspired us to work harder. It was so empowering to see how impressed or like how passionate some parents were when they're reading our board.”

These two leaders could not meet their goals without facing major complications and setbacks. One of the most prominent challenges the founders faced was filing for nonprofit status and going through a rigorous paperwork process. Along with navigating coursework, they managed to navigate their student lives and nonprofit by relying on a dependable international team who are always willing to put in additional effort. 

The STEM to Flower team also has advice for aspiring young innovators and youth who want to make a difference in their community or on a global scale: 

“I think the reason Linsey and I have been able to do so much and expand this organization so much is that we recognize how doing this by ourselves entirely would be a lot,” Senuki said. 

I know it sounds sappy, but without Linsey and just all our other officers, I personally wouldn't have been able to do it. You should not let this kind of competitive barrier between you and your peers get in between you…if you guys are working towards a common goal, work together!”

Many high school students doubt their capabilities or their potential to make an impact. Linsey acknowledges these self-doubts but affirms the importance of seeking challenges. “Go for it while you can. We only have four years in high school, unfortunately. And you know, you can do a lot in those four years,” she said. 

Learning about STEM to Flower was both a transformative and inspiring experience. Despite the progress society has made regarding gender equality and advocating for equity across multiple genres of marginalized communities, we have a long way to go in terms of establishing legislation. 

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