StemBox Founder Kina McAllister Offers Advice for Every Girl Pursuing a Career in STEM
STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) professions aren't known for having a large female presence, but Kina McAllister hopes to change that through her STEM-inspired subscription box, StemBox.
We talked to Kina about how she first got involved with STEM, the story behind StemBox and her advice for girls who want to pursue a career in STEM.
Keep scrolling to read what she had to say!
(Courtesy of Kina McAllister)
Sweety High: Can you tell us a little bit about your background in STEM? What do you love most about what you do?
Kina McAllister: I've loved science since I was about 8 years old. It was when I received my first microscope and I spent much of that summer studying my sibling's blood, bugs and other specimen under the scope. Fast forward to college and I took an intense interest in virology (the study of viruses). I ended up graduating from Seattle University with a BS in General Science and a focus in Biology and Chemistry. My senior thesis ended up helping me land my first job at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. The head of that lab had given a few lectures that I attended in the city and he read my thesis, so when I approached him for a position interning he was extremely helpful. Three months later, I was hired as a full-time research technician in the Kiem Lab helping to research gene therapies with real world applications.
SH: What inspired you to create StemBox?
KM: There were several times during my education and career that I didn't feel welcome and preemptively judged based on my personality and looks. I consider myself an outgoing girly girl, but science stereotypically is composed of stoic and reserved men. This sentiment had at times been explicitly and implicitly expressed in school and my career. However, I knew that science is what would make me the happiest while improving the lives of those around me. I also had a network of people supporting me in whatever I chose to do. Not all girls have that reassurance, and in certain parts of the country, they are actively discouraged from pursuing careers in STEM. To date, only 29% of the STEM field is made of women, and in the first 10 years of a woman's career in STEM, 50% of them leave.
I wanted to give girls fun and exciting science experiments that continuously interested them in STEM. If one subject wasn't their favorite, we could provide a new one to explore the next month. I wanted to make sure that we were reaching girls early. I also chose to make experiments that girls could relate to their everyday lives and aspire to achieve careers in. Thus, the idea of a monthly subscription box of science experiments was born!
SH: Do you have a favorite StemBox experiment?
KM: Well, there are three. I love the Strawberry DNA box, bacteria box and blood box. They have such tangible results, and are close to my heart because of my background in researching the DNA of hematopoietic (blood) stem cells on a daily basis. I wanted to give girls just a taste of what it was like to work in a lab, and I think these boxes did that really well.
(Courtesy of Kina McAllister)
SH: What do you hope girls take away from their StemBox subscription?
KM: If girls at the very least walk away from their subscription with a sense of empowerment, that they made this awesome reaction happen or did something they didn't think they could do before, I would be over the moon. While I would love to see all of our steminists pursuing STEM careers because of their subscriptions, I know that STEM is not every girl's calling. I want them to realize how dynamic and capable they are. They can love makeup and soap, but also be the most amazing chemists who invent the next big cosmetic. They can love stars and the moon, but also be responsible for engineering the next mission to mars with NASA. Girls are so dynamic, and I want them to learn that it's all up to them.
SH: Do you have a memorable story about someone's experience with StemBox?
KM: One of the most precious things I've heard so far is about our bacteria box. We included a Giant Microbe E. coli plushie that our steminist's dad could not get her to put down. She'd sleep with her E. coli plushie at night!
Another memory is receiving a video of one of our steminists exploring her StemBox and just seeing all the excitement. Not only that, but she proceeded to teach the experiment on camera to whoever would watch the video. How amazing is that?! She's leading with what she's learned and spreading it. That's more than I could ever hope for!
SH: Why do you think it's important that more girls are involved in STEM?
KM: There are so many reasons! On the financial side, women in STEM tend to make more money than their female counterparts in other fields and they're more equally paid when compared to men. However, there aren't as many women leading in STEM fields, so we're missing out on some really amazing ideas and ways of thinking. The best way to solve problems is to bring in a new perspective, and that's what science is missing right now. With more women in STEM leadership, we can also create more inclusive work spaces for women to explore their options to plan families, negotiate better health coverage for women and create mentorship programs to move more women up to leadership positions.
SH: Who are some females in STEM you really look up to and why?
KM: I'll admit that I struggled to find prominent female science communicators to look up to in my youth. Most of us know about Bill Nye, Neil DeGrasse Tyson and Carl Sagan because of their media platforms and celebrity status, but there aren't any women at that level. As I got older, I had to do some digging to find my role models, but most of them were women I met in my everyday life. Scientists I met at Fred Hutch, professors from my college and my friends in my major were all sources of inspiration for me. These women in my life inspire me to keep going and push myself to be the best scientist I can be. Even though I'm more involved in the business field these days, I still find women in my community who I look up to. To me, it's all about building a community and working together to lift more women up.
SH: What's your advice for girls who are hesitant about pursuing a career in STEM?
KM: You're not obligated to do something you are not passionate about, but I would encourage them to fight for the equality of women in whatever field they do decide to pursue. In big ways or small, there's always something we can do to help those around us and ensure fair treatment for those of us who have had less opportunity than others. It makes things better for all of us. For the girls who are scared, I urge them to think of why they're scared of pursuing STEM. If it's because they think they aren't good enough, well they are good enough. No one has permission to make you feel like you aren't worth it. I admit that STEM is a challenging field, but worth every minute of studying and hard work put into it. You don't have to be a genius, but you do have to be willing to work hard. There's no better feeling than conquering the mountain and looking down behind you, seeing others following the path you've beaten.
Kina isn't the only female in STEM we support. HERE is everything you need to know about Astronaut Abby.