Closing the Gap: Shad alums share their work to remedy the gender disparity in STEAM
For Ayah Mohieldein and Victoria Yu, seeing more women enter STEAM fields is not only something they hope for, but something they work towards every day in their roles with Superposition Toronto, a not-for-profit organization run by high school and university student volunteers whose mission is to help close the gender gap in STEAM.
Growing up as young women passionate about the sciences, they often felt like fish out of water in the male-dominated classes and extracurriculars they loved. Ayah is fortunate to be at a high school in Edmonton where the science courses are mandatory, but for Victoria, the gender gap in her classes is unmistakable. “I always knew I wanted to pursue STEM but knew there was a large gender disparity in the field. In my computer science classes, I have been only one of two girls.”
Instead of accepting the situation, Victoria decided to see if she could be a part of the solution. “When I heard about Superposition and what they were working to do, I really wanted to be a part of that mission.”
Victoria joined Superposition in grade nine as an Operations Coordinator, learning the ropes of the organization and helping to organize events and invite attendees. She has since moved into the Executive Director role. The organization’s key demographic is high school students and those just entering high school.
“It’s really important to reach young girls before they self-select out of STEAM. We want to help them to see that they not only belong in science and technology, but that their perspective is valuable and needed.”
To accomplish this, Superposition holds events that work to elevate and make visible the role of women in STEAM, like hosting panels where female undergraduates in STEAM programs come and answer questions for younger students about their program, the university experience, and the application process. They also hold lectures where participants can learn about STEAM topics not covered in high school curriculum to encourage girls to pursue more niche fields.
Ayah believes these events provide a way for participants to overcome things like gender stereotypes. “These events help to provide female role models who the students can look up to and use as motivation to pursue their goals and passion.”
Ayah knows something about stereotypes and how that can impact someone’s self-perception. As one of the only Black females at her science-focused school, she often felt she didn’t belong in certain advanced STEAM tracks, despite her excellent grades. “I don’t often see girls who look like me in the science programs I enjoy, which can make you feel like you don’t belong.”
Ayah’s experience with Shad really helped to change that perspective and led to her joining the team at Superposition. Though she had reservations about whether she belonged in the program, she applied for Shad2022 and was accepted to attend the York University campus in Toronto. The experience really helped her to change how she saw herself and her ability to have an impact.
“After Shad, I felt very empowered. I had just completed a program I thought might not accept me, and I was very much in the mindset of looking for what I could accomplish next. I had always noticed the gender and racial gaps in STEAM, being a black woman myself, so when I discovered Superposition, it felt like a great fit for me to continue to have an impact in ways that mattered to me.”
Ayah joined Superposition a year ago and has worked her way up to Senior Director of Events, where she works to organize events and reach out to experts and community members to come share their STEAM knowledge and experience with the Superposition community. Her experience at Shad greatly influences the kinds of events she organizes, as she understands the importance of exposing youth to a diverse range of topics and perspectives.
“I loved trying new things at Shad. I was able to explore so many interesting topics that I wasn’t necessarily expecting. We did an entomology lab, and I really didn’t think I was going to enjoy dissecting bugs, but it turned out to be an incredibly interesting way to discover the world around you. Same with caving. It wasn’t an activity I would have sought out on my own, but it was an amazing experience.”
Victoria understands Ayah’s perspective. She attended ShadYork in 2023, and this shared experience is something the two have bonded over as they work together at Superposition. Victoria loved that Shad helped to push her out of her comfort zone to try new things and explore the unfamiliar, and it’s a lesson she uses to guide her choices in her new leadership role at Superposition.
“Shad really taught me to get out of my comfort zone. That has really helped me in my role as Executive Director at Superposition, since it’s all new and requires me to be ok trying new things and trusting myself to take some risks. It’s also a lesson I hope to share with the students we engage, to encourage them to take chances and trust their potential.”
Ayah and Victoria see their experience at Shad as having provided them a hopeful glimpse into how things could be in STEAM fields and motivates them to continue their work.
“There was so much diversity and representation at Shad, particularly among the Shads themselves. I met people from across the country, learning what life is like in different cities and provinces, from people with different socioeconomic backgrounds. It was a real comfort to see that there was room for everyone in the program, because unfortunately there are still many places where we don’t see that equality.”
Helping to promote equality and representation in those remaining spaces is something Victoria and Ayah will continue to do, working towards the day when each girl will be one of many in every STEAM class, program, and career field.
“As far as we’ve come, there are still a number of barriers that prevent certain groups from attaining equal representation in important fields. Our goal is to continue to chip away at those barriers until the gates open to welcome everyone who deserves to be there.”