Sabina London is a total girl boss as the social entrepreneur who founded STEM You Can! when she was just 15 years old. The youth-led organization provides free STEM summer camps to young girls looking to spark their interest in science.
Since its launch, Sabina expanded it from one camp with 15 local girls to a full-on national nonprofit. This year, she has 45 additional camps scheduled in 15 states. By the end of 2017, their student volunteers will commit more than 16,000 hours of service with community impact valued at $400,000 and impact more than 1,500 kids. Sabina is a prestigious Jefferson Awards Media Partner Winner for public service, a winner of the National Diller Teen Tikkum Olam (Repairing the World) Award for her exceptional leadership, and a Jefferson Awards GlobeChanger. And for good reason—she’s well on her way to creating mass global change.
Why did you decide to found STEM You Can! (formerly known as Girls Science Interactive) when you were 15 years old?
My idea to start STEM You Can! extends far back to my sophomore year in high school, when I noticed I was one of only four girls in my honors chemistry class. I was struck by studies that show that because many women lack confidence or believe that they are incapable of succeeding, they do not enter scientific fields.
I’ve always liked science, and I have been working in a professional immunology research lab since I was 15 years old. Often, especially in the beginning, the results I achieved were unexpected and difficult to interpret. I was lucky to be trained by the most amazing mentors, who inspired me to be curious and constantly ask why when approaching a scientific problem. Eventually, I found it so fascinating that I wanted other young girls to become as passionate about science as I am.
Why do you think it’s important for girls to become engaged with science?
Although women represent half of the U.S. workforce, they make up only 24 percent of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) careers. As Michelle Obama said, “If we are going to go out-innovate and out-educate the rest of the world, then we have to open doors for everyone.”
The demand for STEM skills is expected to grow substantially in the next decade. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, at the current growth rate, the United States will fall short of at least one million STEM professionals. We need to provide opportunities for absolutely everyone and encourage girls from a young age to be interested in science.
What were some challenges you faced while growing the company into a national non-profit?
Before I ran my first camp in 2013, I spent about a year creating the curriculum and researching how to make science fun for young girls. In the beginning, it was very difficult to publicize the program through local middle schools and encourage girls to attend. After seeing how much the girls enjoyed the camp, I had a vision to bring this program to as many girls as possible.
For the last four years, I recruited and provided training seminars for other students to organize free STEM You Can! camps in their communities and low-income areas. The most challenging part was motivating other students and building their confidence as I trained them to lead their own camps. But after running the program, every one of the teen leaders found the experience so rewarding that the following year they not only continued but inspired many of their friends as well.
Today, I am also so honored to be working with Sam Beard, the President and Co-founder of the Jefferson Awards. With the help of the Jefferson Awards Foundation, I am so happy that a single camp I ran in New Jersey has expanded into a national nonprofit network of over 40 free STEM summer camps, workshops and after-school programs in 15 states.
What advice would you have for other collegiettes who want to become social entrepreneurs?
I would say to other college students: If you are really passionate about something and persevere, you would be amazed at what you can do. And don’t be afraid to ask help from others. Four years ago, I would have never imagined that one camp would evolve into an organization in 15 states. I wouldn’t be able to do it without the commitment and motivation of our incredible team of high school and college students.
As a National Child Awareness Ambassador and with help from Youth Service America’s Sarah Barrie, I was connected to a community of inspiring people, many of whom are now camp directors.
What is your teaching philosophy and strategy?
Instead of lecturing about different scientific disciplines, I developed a curriculum involving group discussions and hands-on experiments that would demonstrate that what the girls learned had real-life applications. Each day of the camp, we covered different topics such as energy and matter, global warming and renewable energy, astronomy, chemistry and neuroscience.
What did you learn from researching in a professional laboratory while in high school?
I am so thankful to my amazing mentors Dr. Andrew Gow and Dr. Changjiang Guo at the Ernest Mario School of Pharmacy at Rutgers University. I investigated the immunosuppressive mechanisms in LAM, a rare and fatal pulmonary disease. I performed flow cytometry, nitric oxide measurements, RT-PCR experiments and statistical calculations. I repeated experiments over and over again, read scientific articles and reached out to scientists, mentors and graduate students to try to make sense of my data. I had to teach myself advanced immunology concepts to be able to work on this project. I spent almost a year just learning how to do flow cytometric analysis and deciding how to best present the data in the scientific paper. I was excited when we found a novel pathway in LAM that may be targeted with future drugs.
What are your top goals and priorities post-graduation?
I hope to pursue Neuroscience, Engineering Entrepreneurship, and Linguistics at the University of Pennsylvania. I also hope to continue expanding STEM You Can! and my dream is to someday see our curriculum in every school across the United States.
What do you most want to change about the world?
Changing the world, to me, means removing stereotypes, and most importantly not forgetting about the hidden force of women. In the 21st century, we can’t just stand by when women are left out and intimidated. Like Hillary Clinton said in her concession speech, “I know we have still not shattered that highest and hardest glass ceiling, but some day someone will and hopefully sooner than we might think right now.”