Women are widely underrepresented in STEM fields nationally in higher education, research fields, and the science and engineering workforce as a whole. For example, while women make up half of the total U.S. college-educated workforce, they only account for 29% of the science and engineering workforce. According to the American Association of University Women, this gender disparity is due to various environmental and social barriers – including stereotypes, gender bias and the climate of science and engineering departments. Women may internalize a chronic negative stereotype that they cannot succeed in math and science, which as a result, significantly undermines their real ability. This week’s Wonder Woman Wednesday post features a woman who aims to break down this stereotype and support women who want to pursue STEM careers.
Dr. Anna Powers is an award-winning university lecturer, scholar, and scientist who started “Powers Education” with the innovative “Power’s Method” that provides a unique tutoring and mentoring service aimed towards helping women succeed in science and math courses in high school and beyond. There are two parts to the Powers Method. One is understanding science through relationships between concepts and formulas, how they interweave. The second is building relationships with mentors and tutors that will provide a strong foundation for success. It is about fostering an environment of support amongst women to improve their confidence in their own abilities to succeed. And it is about helping women reach their full potential in the STEM fields. For more information about her tutoring services, check out her website here!
Amongst her many achievements, Dr. Anna Powers was the recipient of the Student Leader Global STEM Award by the American Chemical Society, where she was the first woman in fifty years to be bestowed such an honor. The Award recognizes an outstanding leader committed to international STEM activities, encouraging women and mentoring young people. She was also the recipient of an Outstanding Teaching Award, awarded to New York University faculty for their outstanding contributions to the classroom. Finally, her doctoral dissertation thesis defense was “On the Quantum Behavior of Nanoconfined Hydrogen.”
I had the opportunity to get in touch with Dr. Anna Powers and conduct a short little interview to learn more about her work, passions, and struggles as a woman in science.
Q: Are there any challenges you may have faced as a woman in science and how did you overcome them?
A: Yes, sometimes when I tell people about who I am and what I do, they become intimidated by me! I am a very friendly person, and not intimidating at all! And so in an effort to better relate to people, I am sometimes shy about sharing my achievements or avoid talking about them. Obviously hiding one’s brightness is not a good thing. I am not sure if people find me intimidating because I am breaking stereotypes, about the image of science or in general about women in science? I am still trying to figure out a good way to overcome this, but one step I am taking forward is sharing my story with as many people as possible as to inspire them. For example, giving this interview!
Q: Regarding your tutoring company: what is the aim of your business, what inspired you to create this startup, and what differentiates your company from other tutoring companies?
A: What differentiates us is something very important: relationships. We teach young women to see science in terms of relationships, like a scientist, and to build relationships with mentors who are successful in the field they are about to enter. There is no tutoring company out there specifically focused on women, and there is no company out there focusing on teaching math and science in a way that removes the memorization and instead, builds knowledge. And that is what we do! Over the 7 years that I’ve taught in the university level, I saw many young women struggle with confidence going into the STEM field, I often heard the phrase “I am not good in math” or “I don’t like science”. There were no female role models, and I was the only role model, so I became everyone’s role model in many science classes. It was extremely gratifying seeing my students succeed, but at the same time, I am one person, and can’t physically help everyone. So I decided it would be a good idea to put my two talents together: teaching science in an effective way and helping women succeed, and this is how Powers Education started. What inspired me to create is the need for women role models in STEM and an effective teaching method that makes science easy and accessible!
Q: You mentioned that one of your talents is teaching science in an effective way. When did you first start teaching and what do you think makes your teaching effective?
A: I served as a teaching assistant at the university level when I was only a junior in college – which is extremely rare – amongst other graduate students. When I taught, I found that students could relate to me well because I was similar to them, they understood me. I have a talent for communicating complex ideas in simple ways and I was always good at the quantitative sciences. Later in my career, I got an award for teaching, which was given to only 6 lecturers across NYU’s 50 departments.
Q: What are some of your hobbies/interests outside of science/work?
A: I enjoy learning Chinese characters, I think they hold a lot of meaning and depth, and they are elegant and beautiful. I also enjoy painting and I paint at home with oil paint or acrylics. I also enjoy dancing, both performing and watching, especially west African dance.
Q: Can you tell me about your research interests?
A: My research interest lies in the area of quantum dynamics, using and developing novel methodology to simulate molecules in nanoconfinement. Specifically, I have extensively studied hydrogen encapsulated inside clathrate hydrates, which are crystalline compounds subject to international research effort that has identified them as a potential material for hydrogen storage. I have investigated the free-energy profiles that describe the motion of hydrogen inside these nano cavities using quantum mechanics which is resulted in the first ever quantum free energy profiles of hydrogen inside this system. The simulations were carried out using methods such as path integral molecular dynamics (PIMD) with blue moon ensemble. Ring polymer molecular dynamics rate theory, incorporating both exact quantum statistics and approximate quantum dynamical effects, was utilized to determine the H2 diffusion rates in a broad temperature interval. A paper on this topic, which is a culmination of a two year international research collaboration, is due to be appear in a high impact journal this fall. I have also aided in the development of new theoretical methodology as well as its application to carbon structured materials, which lead to a discovery of new spectroscopic selection rule. I have given talks about my research at Cambridge University, Tel-Aviv University, as well as the American Chemical Society.
Article written by: Lisa He