If You Could Wave a Magic Wand & Make One Policy Change to Support Girls in STEM, What Would It Be?

By Maia Appleby

We recently had an opportunity to ask five inspiring, successful, incredibly admirable women in STEM careers for their thoughts on education policy:

“If you could wave a magic wand and make one specific policy change in every K-12 school in the United States, what would it be? And how could that one action bring about subsequent change?

Here’s what they said: 

Clockwise from top left: Anbu Subramaniyan, Sabari Raja, Andi McNair, Jennifer Harrison (moderator), Ana Porras, Nicole Jackson.
Clockwise from top left: Anbu Subramaniyan, Sabari Raja, Andi McNair, Jennifer Harrison (moderator), Ana Porras, Nicole Jackson.

Anbu Subramaniyan Quality Manager of Stamping at General Motors

“I just want to wave a magic wand and take the fear of math and science away.

That’s all I want to do. Take the fear of math and science away.”

Anbu is the quality manager for the Metal Stamping Division of General Motors in Arlington, Texas, where GM’s full-size utility vehicles such as Cadillac Escalade, Chevrolet Tahoe and GMC Yukon are assembled. Anbu also serves as the chair of Women In Manufacturing (WIM), an employee resource group at GM. Through WIM, she leads several community outreach programs, working with local schools through programs such as Junior Achievement, Virtual Classrooms, mentoring and STEM workshops. She is also the Dallas Chapter Lead for Isha Vidhya, a nonprofit organization focusing on rural education in India.

A native of India, Anbu earned her bachelor’s degree in engineering from the National Institute of Technology, India; and her master’s degree in engineering from the University of Tulsa. She also holds a certified manager of quality certification from the American Society for Quality.

Ana Porras Postdoctoral Fellow at Cornell University

“Step away from so much testing and standardized testing. Testing works for people like me, but it doesn’t work for most people. A few studies have also demonstrated that the way we test can also be to the discredit of girls in STEM specifically. Along with what Nicole said, if we can also figure out some other more holistic ways to test a student’s knowledge, by project based learning, maybe learning in groups.

Another thing that we haven’t talked about is that technology and the problems we can tackle with technology are so big that we need to cultivate the ability to work in teams with our students, because that’s just how the future is going to work. No one person can tackle every problem. And the way we test right now, we’re not really developing any of those skills.”

Ms. Porras is a Cornell Presidential Postdoctoral Fellow. Her research experience encompasses a wide variety of topics ranging from tissue engineering to the gut microbiome and global health. Ms. Porras has completed a BS, MS, and PhD in Biomedical Engineering. During graduate school, she obtained a Delta Certificate in Teaching and Learning with an emphasis on inclusive pedagogy.

Originally from Colombia, she is passionate about multicultural and multilingual communication in both formal and informal settings. She is an advocate and active participant in organizations and communities that foster diversity in STEM.

Andi McNair Digital Innovation Specialist at Education Service Center – Region 12

“Anytime a kid can learn and experience STEM through their passion, it is a game changer. It’s authentic and it’s real. And it makes learning so much more than just learning through a test or filling out a worksheet. And so, passion-based learning is a real thing, it’s a real conversation in education right now and I think the more we can get momentum behind that idea, any type of project based learning across curricula.”

Andi is currently a digital innovation specialist at ESC Region 12 in Waco, Texas. She has spoken nationally at many conferences, education service centers, and worked with many school districts to provide innovative learning experiences for their students. Andi was named one of the Top People in Education to Watch in 2016 by the Academy of Education Arts and Sciences. She has published Genius Hour: Passion Projects that Ignite Innovation and Student Inquiry, A Meaningful Mess: A Teacher’s Guide to Student-Driven Classrooms, Authentic Learning, Student Empowerment, and Keeping it All Together without Losing Your Mind and is in the process of working on her third book to be published soon. She absolutely loves sharing her passion for innovative education with other educators that want more for their students.

Sabari Raja co-founder and CEO of Nepris

“Entrepreneurship has to be part of middle school and high school. That is the quickest way for students to really apply a lot of skills. I always say the biggest learning that I’ve had has been in the last seven years since this idea became a product, which became a company. The amount of learning that I’ve had in my adult life has been immense. Giving that opportunity to students covers a lot of things that you want.”

Sabari has a strong track record in building and launching successful education technology products in markets around the globe. Prior to starting Nepris, she worked for 15 years with Education Technology division of Texas Instruments to lead product and content strategy, publisher relations, business development, partnership and alliance ecosystem for new edtech products. Sabari has an undergraduate degree in Electrical Engineering from India, Masters in Computer Science from Louisiana State University and graduated Beta Gamma Sigma with an Executive MBA degree from Cox School of Business, SMU.

Nicole Jackson Chief Technology Officer of Duet Health

“Move away from having such constrained curriculum and move toward intriguing students, by exposing them to things very early on and letting them pick a path. People who are excited and emotionally compelled for something, tend to pursue it … You see an impact when you can let students be engaged and pursue STEM naturally on their own, as opposed to just shoving STEM down students’ throats, trying to convince them that it’s cool when they don’t see why it’s cool.”

Ms. Jackson is a technologist and a Health IT SME (subject matter expert) specifically working alongside Android, iOS, and Web developers and technical strategists in a highly competitive work space. Ms. Jackson keenly identifies and cultivates new talent in the health IT field and encourages young talent to be their best. Ms. Jackson is also a veteran of the US Armed Forces, a cellist, a mother and a proud wife.

Thank you so much, Anbu, Andi, Sabari, Nicole and Ana. Your leadership and example are exactly what we need to prevent society, families, and even schools from discouraging girls to find and follow their passion in STEM areas.

Maia Appleby manages the editorial and creative strategy at the American Consortium for Equity in Education. She puts every issue of the Equity & Access Pre K-12 magazine together and runs a wide array of programs and initiatives to support educators and industry leaders who are working to provide equitable learning environments to students throughout the country. With 20+ years of experience in marketing and communications and a strong commitment to activism and social justice, she ensures that all of our messaging and content aligns with our mission. Connect with Maia on LinkedIn at

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