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Saturday, April 21, 2018

Faculty & Staff

Professor asks girls to ‘be brave’ when considering STEM


Mariam Manuel combines her passion for teaching with her love of science to inspire a new generation of STEM students. | Courtesy of Mariam Manuel

Women’s History Month is a national recognition dedicated to commemorating the contributions and achievements of women throughout American history.

Elevating women’s successes and sharing their stories means inspiring new generations of those who have been historically marginalized or overlooked to push the boundaries of what was once considered out of their reach and making it more attainable with each step.

“Representation is powerful,” said instructional assistant professor Mariam Manuel. “Being in higher education and STEM education, those are two fields that tend to be very male dominated. So for me, (my role) is something that I don’t take lightly.”

Manuel, who’s also an alumna of UH, said her desire to pursue an undergraduate degree in science stemmed from an early curiosity in her surroundings during her childhood. For her seventh birthday, she received a chalkboard, which was a sign she had found her passion for imparting her knowledge onto others.

She began to question her environments and through her discoveries learned she also enjoyed telling others about what she observed. 

As a high school student, Manuel was inspired to move into teaching by a chemistry teacher who gave her a textbook, which she still has to this day, and saw the potential in her to excel beyond what Manuel thought was possible.

She graduated from UH in 2010 with a B.S. and a minor in science education and received a master’s degree in STEM education from the University of Texas at Austin. Now, Manuel is pursuing a Ph.D. in Global STEM Education at Texas Tech University.

As an undergraduate at UH, Manuel would study in advance of her study group meetings so that she could teach her peers the material. When she learned about the teachHOUSTON program, she said the trajectory of her life was changed.

Since graduating, she has taught high school physics and now teaches for the teachHOUSTON program at UH. In addition to the STEM education courses through teachHOUSTON she also teaches Physics for Pre-Service Teachers and Fundamentals of Engineering Design Education.

Through teachHOUSTON, she is able to work with future high school math and science teachers who will the inspire next generation of students to pursue careers in STEM, she said.

In 2017, Manuel was the recipient of the Million Women Mentors Stand Up for STEM Award for Individual Mentor through the Texas Girls Collaborative Project, which recognized her efforts in mentoring young girls and women to pursue STEM related career pathways.

Manuel said she’s fortunate to have spent the last decade working alongside women like clinical professor for teachHOUSTON, Paige Evans, who she sees as a role model and a mentor.

“Since returning to UH as a professor and master teacher, (she) has worked tirelessly to cultivate the next generation of outstanding STEM teachers,” Evans said. “She has great visions and approaches everything with passion and commitment.”

As a woman in her early STEM classes, Manuel would frequently be the only person who looked like her in the room. She took her position and lessons from her parents as opportunities to find her voice and make room for other women and people of color in traditionally white male-dominated spaces, she said.

Manuel said students should seek out mentors organically and not look to someone who has the resume or credential they think they should be following. She wants women and girls to imagine the possibilities and not feel constricted by outside expectations.

Her goal is to become one of many who look like her and share the same passions of educating and learning within the STEM field. For those who may look to her for inspiration of what they could become, she offers advice for them to take into the future.

“Be willing to be brave,” Manuel said. “There will be times when you’re unsure of the path that you’re taking or if you’re deserving of the place you’re in. You have to be your own biggest champion. You have to advocate for yourself. If you don’t believe that you can accomplish the goals you’ve set for yourself, it’s going to be a tough journey because there will people who won’t let you believe it.”

CORRECTION: A previous headline on this story incorrectly identified Miriam Manuel as a Latina. We regret the error. 

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