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Puerto Rican neurotoxicologist Alexandra Colón-Rodríguez is promoting Latinas in STEM

Neurotoxicologist Alexandra Colón-Rodríguez is helping to promote and support Latinas in STEM from her native Puerto Rico and globally. 

Latinas in STEM: The Stats 

It’s no secret that women and racial minorities are still underrepresented in the STEM field. While the numbers have improved in recent years, women and minority groups still lag behind other demographics.

According to The State of U.S. Science and Engineering (2020), only 29% of the science and engineering workforce was women despite making up roughly 52% of the national population. Latino and Hispanics were also underrepresented. The data showed that while Latino and Hispanic people make up 16% of the United States’ population, but only 8.6% of the STEM workforce identify as Hispanic/Latino. 

 

Latinas in STEM

Women, underrepresented minorities, blacks, and Hispanics in S&E and all occupations: 2017 (Graphic source: The State of U.S. Science and Engineering 2020)

Additionally, due to this inadequate representation in STEM, only 2.3% of all STEM degrees awarded in 2016 went to Hispanic and Latinx women.

Alexandra Colón-Rodríguez’s story 

One Latina who is doing her part to increase the visibility of Latinas in STEM is neurotoxicologist, Alexandra Colón-Rodríguez who is currently a postdoctoral scientist at the University of California, Davis. Born and raised in Santurce, Puerto Rico, she obtained her B.S. in microbiology at Universidad Ana G. Méndez_Recinto de Carolina (former Universidad del Este_Carolina). 

Growing up, Alexandra never thought of becoming a scientist. 

“I was born and raised in Santurce, Puerto Rico, specifically in the area with the most low-income population of the capital, San Juan, I come from a low-income family,” she said. “I didn’t get exposure to a scientist in real life.”  

Latinas in STEM

“I am the 1st and only person in my family with a science degree and a PhD […] and I don’t know other scientists from where I am from” (via @Also_AScientist on twitter)

However, during her junior year in college her father, who had recently been diagnosed with a brain disorder, died. This experience fueled her passion for discovering how the brain works and changes in diseases, and especially how environmental stressors can lead to brain changes that result in disease. 

Currently, her studies have been focused on the effects of an environmental toxin called methylmercury (MeHg) on the human nervous system. 

Her research into the effects of mercury poisoning has become vital because as gold prices have continued to rise, so has the amount of artisanal (small-scale) and illegal gold mining using mercury, which has led to increased mercury emissions to the environment. This contamination has been rising particularly across the Global South and is mostly due to human-driven uses and sources. 

“Anthropogenic sources include the burning of fossil fuels and mercury use for artisanal gold mining,” said Colón-Rodríguez. She added that once mercury gets to water sources, it is methylated (changed to an organic form, MeHg) by bacteria, and starts to accumulate in the bodies of fish.

“Then, populations consuming the contaminated fish will be exposed to MeHg and poisoning effects include visual, sensory, and motor dysfunction,” she said.

You might be interested: Latina entrepreneur combats infants’ pneumonia deaths with biotech

Supporting Women in STEM

In addition to her research work, Alexandra is a passionate advocate for science communication and outreach. As the first in her family to pursue a PhD and after experiencing first hand the limitations in research and neuroscience education in Puerto Rico, she now seeks out opportunities to help increase exposure of STEM to minority groups like herself. 

 

Alexandra Colón-Rodríguez’s words of advice to other women. (via @MillionStem on twitter)

“I am very passionate about science communication and outreach. I believe that we can create a more understanding and supportive society when we (scientists) share the importance of science and the impact it has in our world. Also, as an underrepresented minority scientist I feel the responsibility of encouraging the next generation of scientists like myself by sharing my experience while teaching them about areas that I am very passionate about, Neuroscience and Toxicology.” 

As part of her mission to support women in STEM, Alexandra founded STEAM100x35

STEAM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math, and 100×35 represents our connection to Puerto Rico which is 100×35 miles. STEAM100x35 mission is to promote and amplify the voices of Puerto Rican women in STEAM around the world,” she said.

The initiative showcases profiles from Latinas in STEAM which are collected using a form and shared across all STEAM100x35’s social media platforms. 

 “As a Puerto Rican, the lack of visibility of Puerto Rican women in science and the little exposure to science I experienced growing up motivated me to become very active in science communication/outreach,” she said.

Through her work as a scientist, mentor, teacher, and communicator, Alexandra hopes to continue to inspire other minorities, especially Latinas, to pursue careers in STEM.

Women in tech startups mobile apps

8 Steps to launching a tech startup

First of all, what is a startup? In simple terms, it describes any small tech-related company that has the potential to become something big. It can be an app such as Snapchat. It can be a combination of an app and a platform (website) such a Pinterest, and it can belong to any industry: health, fashion, food, entertainment, social good, etc.

tech startup mobile app

If you have an idea for a tech startup, I will be discussing how to launch one in a few steps. Make sure to stay tuned for this 8-part series:

  1. Planning
  2. Leveraging Contacts
  3. Team Formation
  4. Business Strategy
  5. Execution
  6. PR & Marketing
  7. Pitching & Funding
  8. Exit Strategy

Part 1: Planning your tech startup

So you’re a woman and you have a great idea. But maybe, like many other women, you lack the necessary support system or don’t know how to execute your idea and turn it into a viable business. And sister, if you are a woman of color, it’s even worse. Who are we kidding?

Don’t worry. You’re not alone.

It’s 2016, and although we live in a world where 54 percent of college students are women, the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) majors are still overwhelmingly male dominated.

It’s not really surprising. I mean, how often are little girls really encouraged to go into business, math, and science?

But this disappointing trend is on the mend! Thanks to the efforts of Sheryl Sandberg’s LeanIn Organization, Nely Galan’s Adelante Movement and Angelica Perez-Litwin’s Latinas Think Big Innovation Summits more and more women seem to have embraced the entrepreneurial surge across the country.

You might be interested:
Latina entrepreneur Nely Galán SELF-MADE an inspiring story of empowerment and self-reliance

Ok, Monica. Get to the point. How the heck do I launch my own tech startup?

Planning, Planning, Planning.

First of all, what is a startup? In simple terms, it describes any small tech-related company that has the potential to become something big. It can be an app such as Snapchat. It can be a combination of an app and a platform (website) such a Pinterest, and it can belong to any industry: health, fashion, food, entertainment, social good, etc.

Women in tech startups mobile apps

Remember Facebook’s story? Who would have thought that a simple idea in a college dorm room could lay waste to MySpace and Friendster and become the social media giant that it is today? Other sites you’re currently using such as Twitter, Instagram and YouTube began as “just an idea” and became a tech startup. It took a lot of trial and error and a LOT of planning.

It may sound tedious, but this was perhaps the phase I enjoyed the most when I developed ClipYap. If you haven’t read about my upcoming app, you can do so here.

I was excited, but I was also very secretive and mistakenly thought that if I shared my idea with a lot of people, someone might steal it.

Wrong.

In fact, let me really tell you what a dork I was and how I learned about the beauty of careful planning.

I started developing my idea backwards. Instead of methodically following the steps that I will be focusing on in this blog series, (Planning, Leveraging Contacts, Team, Business Strategy, Execution, PR & Marketing and Pitching & Funding) I went straight into execution. What a novice! Better yet, #dummy! I started building the darn thing without doing the necessary research. I spent money and lost it because I didn’t plan well.

Planning involves asking the right questions and diving into research, whether online or “in the field.”

Consider these questions:

  • Does your idea already exist?
  • What makes your idea unique?
  • Who are your competitors – and what’s worked for them?
  • Who are your users? (Millennials? Women 18-34? Gay men?)
  • What will your Minimum Viable Product (MVP) be? (A fancy term for the first feature your users will see in your startup.)
  • How will you measure your MVP’s success? (Metrics: Number of users in the first 6 months or first year? Raising $500K in the first 6 months from angel seed investors?
  • How will your idea be profitable? (Hey, a business is supposed to make money, right?)

These questions are incredibly important because they will allow you to look ahead and from a critical thinking standpoint. Do research! Get on Google and research how many startups out there are similar to yours.

After all, why would you want to launch another social media site similar to Facebook or another disappearing app like Snapchat? Who the heck wants to reinvent the wheel?

My friends, innovation is key, but saving money is cooler and planning helps you do just that!

Till next time!

For tech & money tips, follow Mónica Taher’s blog at: www.monicataher.com