March’s Germ Girl is Maria Gelabert, an ambitious, well-rounded, and intelligent science whiz hailing from sunny Los Angeles. Her dream? To live on Mars. We were already impressed, but if that wasn’t enough, she’s equally as talented in the English department as she is in the math/science field. For instance, Maria helped create a literary magazine for her all-girls high school along with close friend (and fellow Germ Girl) Emily Ward. We were lucky enough to land an interview with this admirable lady, and she was able to lead us through (among other things) what it’s like to love science, to love the universe, and to strive for an incredible future in the STEM field.
Are you currently in school? What is your year/major?
I am currently a senior at the Archer School for Girls.
We hear you want to live on Mars. What is it about space/space travel that fascinates you?
I’m most attracted to space because we know so little about it. Space exploration is, I believe, the key to furthering our understanding of how the universe works, for at its heart, space exploration is driven by curiosity. There are, quite literally, infinite possibilities as to what can be found in space, and if you don’t find that awe-inspiring, I am terribly sorry but you are beyond help. And yes, one of those infinite possibilities is non-terran life — perhaps not in the form of little green men, but it is more than likely that some form of life exists that we haven’t even begun to think of.
Space is also one of the few places left to explore (one we could, theoretically, infinitely explore, because it is constantly expanding) and is one that potentially holds answers to the creation of life and the universe itself. Space exploration could, of course, lead to the discovery of valuable new resources and the creation of new technology for human use, thus bolstering the economy back on Earth. But, frankly, I don’t find this nearly as interesting as anything we could discover.
But space exploration also embodies the realization of countless dreams. Such a large part of the human experience is daring to push boundaries and feeling awe rather than fear in the face of the unknown. Space exploration encourages curiosity, perseverance, toleration for adversity, and the pursuit of knowledge. We naturally look to the stars and wonder what else could be out there, and by turning away from the stars, humanity has turned away from all that makes us unique: our innate curiosity, our desire for knowledge, and above all, our ability to look around and ask ourselves what other wonders could be out there.
That, and nebulae are just really pretty.
What steps are you taking to make this dream a reality?
Astronauts aren’t simply extreme pilots anymore: they are scientists first and foremost. The main ways I am currently pursuing this is by becoming more involved in the STEM field — I took an astronomy course over the summer and am now enrolled in a scientific research class along with another course in computer science. Right now, I’m gathering the tools I’ll need to develop a strong background in the physical sciences and general knowledge of aeronautical engineering.
What do you love to do in your free time?
I read viciously. I also watch really bad superhero TV shows, play softball, and, perhaps unsurprisingly, stalk NASA’s website.
Do you have any heroes? Who inspires you?
I’m not sure I have people who inspire me, per say, but there certainly are people whom I admire. Rosalind Franklin, for instance, whose research led to the discovery of the double-helix structure of DNA, Malala Yousafzai for her work supporting women’s rights and equal education, and, of course, Sally Ride and Mae Jemison, the first female astronaut and female African American astronaut respectively, to name a few.
We’ve also heard you helped establish an online literary magazine with previous Germ Girl Emily Ward. Can you describe that? What were the top three things you learned from that experience?
Creating our LitMag’s website was simultaneously the most stressful and the most exciting experience of this year. Emily and I had been talking about creating a website for Pillars of Salt (our school’s literary magazine) for about a year before we actually were able to begin work. We sketched out what our dream website would look like and took the drawings to our school’s web designers. They would return the designs with questions, and we would add more detail to the designs before returning the new drafts, and the process would begin again. Eventually, we reached a “final” design and built a website around it. I say “final” because the website ended up changing, but still wound up surpassing Emily’s and my dreams.
As for the top three things I’ve learned, the first would be the importance of being flexible and open to change — if Emily and I hadn’t been so willing to alter our original ideas, we probably wouldn’t have had a website, period. Second, surround yourself with people who know what they’re talking about and listen to them. And lastly, just because your dreams are changing doesn’t mean that you have to compromise their original core — more often than not, the changes are simply those necessary to turn your vision into a reality, but make sure that you don’t lose sight of your original intention along the way.
What would you say to encourage other girls out there to get into science and STEM fields?
I think a lot of girls are discouraged from entering the STEM field because they are told early on that they aren’t supposed to be interested in science. When you read science textbooks, you hear about the father of genetics and the father of calculus and other areas of study, but you never really hear about the women involved in those fields, despite women often playing crucial roles in their development. When you’re young, it can be difficult to see yourself in a field that is portrayed as incredibly male-dominated and that is off-putting: no one wants to be the only anything in a certain field.
As I’ve gotten older, though, I’ve learned about all the key roles women have played in the development of the STEM field. The truth is, women are in the STEM field. We always have been. Programming used to be nearly entirely female-dominated, but as it became more important, programming was increasingly marketed towards men. Rosalind Franklin had essentially discovered the double-helical structure of DNA before Watson and Crick used her research as the basis of their theory. Let me assure you: women are in STEM. You will not be alone.
As for the STEM field itself, aside from becoming increasingly important in today’s world, it is simply one that holds so many possibilities. There are so many things you can do within it — STEM doesn’t have to be only dissections or calculus if that’s not what you’re interested in. STEM can be examining how and why humans think the way we do. STEM can be studying dolphins and how they interact with one another. STEM can be developing video games or apps for your iPhone. STEM can even be looking at the stars. The truth is, you can do nearly anything you want in the STEM field, because at its heart, STEM is about asking questions, searching for answers, and solving problems in any shape or form.
If you are even remotely curious about how the world works or interested in helping people, look into STEM. If you have wacky ideas about a new set of headphones that you can sleep in comfortably or cars that run solely on sunlight, look into STEM. If you are incredibly passionate about sharks or starfish or tornadoes, look into STEM. If you want to see if you can make X-Men real, look into STEM. Truly, you can do anything here.
At its heart, the answer to “Why should girls think about STEM?” can be distilled into three words: we need you. We need young women in the sciences, in engineering, in programming. We need you everywhere. We need you to find solutions to the problems of today and to prevent the ones of tomorrow. We need you.
Tell us three interesting facts about yourself that people may not know.
1. I can wiggle my ears.
2. I am perpetually cold. My friends don’t even flinch anymore when I shove my freezing fingers against their necks to try to steal some warmth.
3. I whole-heartedly believe in the existence of ghosts.