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This Educator Encourages Young Pinays Who Want A Future In Tech

Dr. Rosario Lapus, Miriam College president: 'You cannot be what you cannot see.' We need to see more females in the S.T.E.A.M. fields!

In a tie-up with Google Philippines on Wednesday, March 8, held an event celebrating International Women's Day, called #WomenWillNine successful Pinays shared their experiences in tech and how the digital world shaped their careers. One of the #girlbosses was Dr. Rosario Oreta Lapus, President of Miriam College.

Dr. Lapus is known for her ‘student-centered philosophy, innovative and forward-looking programs, and people-oriented work style’. She completed her undergraduate degree at Assumption Convent where she finished with a Bachelor of Arts in Foreign Service, cum laude. Besides earning her doctorate in Education at the University of the Philippines, Dr. Lapus also holds two Masters degrees: a Master in Education from Boston College and MS in Gerontology (the study of aging) from the University of Massachusetts in Boston. She also did postgraduate work for three years at the Harvard Graduate School of Education as a visiting scholar-researcher.

With her background in Education, Dr. Lapus hopes to inspire today's youth to become more involved in the tech industry. She is a driving force behind encouraging young girls to pursue their passion in STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math). According to Dr. Lapus, the goal is to "change expectations [for women] and make sure they see that they have a place in STEM, that it is an option for them."

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1. How did you first get involved in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math)?

I'm not a STEM person, I'm a person who promotes STEM. I did have STEM dreams though. My father was an engineer and I wanted to work with him. I started as an Architecture major in UP in the '60s. [It was] the dark ages for STEM for girls — imagine in a class of 50, there would probably be three girls. Or in a college of 1,500, just 50 girls. I didn't feel comfortable, so I went back to the Humanities. 

That's my role now, my mission—I want to make sure that girls see STEM as a place for them.

2. Why is it so important to encourage girls to pursue careers in STEM?

20-30% of women are going into STEM, but we have to increase this number. They're probably concentrated in fields like Medicine, Research, not Computer Science. As an educator, I love working with children. In the '90s I was exposed to Carol Gilligan at Harvard. She spoke about how women learn differently—women are more relational, it can't be all figures and numbers. There has to be meaning in their work.

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STEM has moved into STEAM—the 'A' is there, it's a very important part. 'A' stands for Arts and Humanities. STEAM has become very much a part of the lives of young girls. Young women know they can do it because they see a purpose to it. 

3. In the realm of education is there gender inequality? What are you consciously doing to combat this?

At the lower levels, it's dominated by women. We need balance, men working as teachers and mentors as well. It's very important to have models and mentors in a child's development.

You cannot be what you cannot see.

Young girls need to see female engineers, females in computer science, and so on. Regarding bias and labels, although the Philippines accepts women leaders more openly, I think there still exists the idea that "nice girls should be like this." When a boy is assertive, he's a leader; when it's a girl, she's called bossy. Girls need to learn how to say no and tell people what they want. That's what we need to instill in young girls—to have a voice.

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4. Is single-sex education still a priority in the Philippines? Or has there been a noticeable shift towards co-ed education? 

[Miriam College] considers itself a specialist in girls' education. We make time for interactions with boys' schools, like World Scholar's Day. There's been a resurgence of single-sex schools abroad, although it hasn't lost momentum in the Philippines. We are trying to show people that we are not just a school beside a boy's school—in our case, we're not "Miriam, beside Ateneo." We are MIRIAM COLLEGE, an excellent school for girls. Girls take centerstage, they're the bidas and have all the positions.

5. Given the biases and discrimination in the tech industry, how do you encourage young women to enter the field of STEM?

We have to begin early. For STEM in particular, in the lower grades girls do just as well as boys in math and science, sometimes even better. But as soon as they reach middle school, or junior high school, then you see their grades go down. There is what we call 'middle school slump', and girls become afraid. That's where you have to pay attention in regards to school curriculum. [You have to] train school faculty to be able to teach math differently, a more active way of learning. Learning by doing, not just [via] equations on the board.

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6. How has the change in technology impacted your profession?

[With everything being online nowadays], it is important for educators to teach our students how to use technology wisely, and to learn the power of discernment. Especially with today's problems with fake news, [students] should not just accept things at face value. [They should] study and analyze [the news] and come to their own conclusion. 

7. What would you say to young girls with limited resources or less opportunities in their environment, to encourage their success while trying to pursue careers in STEM?

There are more opportunities now in terms of scholarships. From statistics given by Google Philippines, last year the Department of Education allotted P6.9B for ICT packages (about 30,000 of them) , P4.5B for 9,000 Science and Math equipment packages, and P43.9B for 17,000 laboratories nationwide. DepEd, NSTP (National Service Training Program), DOST (Department of Science and Technology), there are so many scholarships available. Ask for it. Look for the resources! I think that's one thing girls have to learn. To ask, to be resourceful. 

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8. What advice can you give women on handling their own success?

I always tell my graduating class, "Don't forget gratitude. That is the best virtue of all." Remember, you are there [in your position] because many people helped you go up. Suceess is good, but remember the people who helped you.

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