Sophomore joins Girls Advisory Council of women in STEM organization

Submitted by Rhea Karumuru
Sophomore Rhea Karumuru is standing next to Magan Lewis. Lewis is an agricultural engineer for Corteva.

Sophomore Rhea Karumuru was an introvert trying to be an extrovert. She fiddled with the zipper of her leather jacket. 

Up. Down. Up. Down. She tried to do it discreetly, wanting to appear collected.

Karumuru awkwardly stood in the conference room, taking in her surroundings. It was crowded with members of If/Then She Can, an organization devoted to empowering women in STEM. 

Large windows covered one wall, filling the room with natural light. Another was covered with a silver, metallic curtain. Trays of food lined the left side of the room: Oreos dipped in chocolate, plates of fruit and mousse. 

She had never been to an event like this before. Despite being surrounded by people, she had yet to have a conversation with someone. Finally, she spoke up, introducing herself to the ambassador right in front of her. 

Her name was Magan Lewis. Lewis was friendly, speaking with a warm tone, and eased Karumuru’s nerves as they spoke. Karumuru was amazed while listening to how Magan managed making such a big impact on her field while being a mother. 

Karumuru’s curiosity seemed to overpower her nervousness. She wanted to converse with more women and learn from them.

“Hearing how they did it was always more interesting to me than what they did,” Karumuru said.

It was this curiosity that brought her to the meet and greet in the first place. 

Karumuru was always devoted to STEM. In her elementary school days, she developed a fascination with the idea of exploring the unknown.

She traces the root of this fascination to an activity she did in her gifted and talented class. Students tracked the migration patterns of a species of cranes. They each adopted one and monitored their progress. Karumuru even gave the life-size model of her crane a name and a red collar that matched her dog’s.

“I think that’s what started my interest in animals and STEM,” Karumuru said. “It blew my mind that an animal knew what time of the year it was or where to fly.” 

Karumuru carried this trait with her through high school and it was recognized by her teachers.

“In terms of science she’s got a natural curiosity, and that’s … the heart of research,” Janet Hutley, Karumuru’s AP Chemistry teacher, said. ”If you have a natural curiosity, you’ll look for connections that other people might be content with and just accept.”

This exact trait pushed Rhea towards all sorts of different goals.

“For a solid time I wanted to be the first woman on the moon,” Karumuru said. “Then it went to wanting to be the first woman president.” 

In terms of science she’s got a natural curiosity, and that’s … the heart of research. If you have a natural curiosity, you’ll look for connections that other people might be content with and just accept.”

— Janet Hutley, AP Chemistry

Her goals always evolved, but one thing stayed the same. She wanted to solve problems. Karumuru even considered being a road engineer during a long road trip with many potholes. But in the end, all of her ambitions revolve around STEM.

“She is incredibly enthusiastic in a really contagious way,” Hutley said. “In other words, when she gets fired up and excited about something, people around her get excited about it.”

It was late May when she discovered If/Then. She was sitting on her favorite couch in the living room, scrolling through her Instagram when a post by the American Association for the Advancement of Science caught her eye from the If/Then account was tagged. 

Karumuru clicked and explored their page and website. She was intrigued by their strategy for change and how they featured  women in a wide variety of STEM occupations. The level of impact they have and their devotion to change pushed Karumuru to join their Girls Advisory Council.

Karumuru applied in early June, answering survey questions about videos from the prospective If/Then ambassadors. She would give feedback about the highlights of their job and the quality of the video.

“We offer valuable information on how other girls will react,” Karumuru said.

After becoming a member of the council, she was able to be directly involved in the decision making processes of If/Then. Part of Karumuru’s job has been to help choose female scientists to feature on the CBS Show “Mission Unstoppable.” 

“It’s a group of girls figuring out the best way to influence others, to explore and learn more about STEM and feel free to do what they wanted to do,” Karumuru said. 

For the future, Karumuru hopes to continue to help as many women interested in STEM as she can through her role.

“It can inspire girls to greater things than they thought they could,” Karumuru said.