Immortalizing Women in STEM: The IF/THEN® Initiative shines bright during Women’s History Month

Story by Jennie Trejo. Photos provided by Lyda Hill Philanthropies.

As we celebrate Women’s History Month, it is essential to recognize the women in our communities who are currently trailblazing toward a more promising future. At the forefront of this movement is the IF/THEN® Initiative, created by Lyda Hill Philanthropies to activate a culture shift among young girls and inspire them to pursue STEM careers.

From left to right: Lyda Hill, Beata Mierzwa, Julie Mirpuri, M.D., Nina Sanford, M.D., Minerva Cordero Ph.D, Danielle Robertson O.D., Ph.D, Nicole Sereika, Jenn Makins, Myria Perez, Jennifer Stimpson Ed. D, and Kirsten Tulchin-Francis.

“This initiative is rooted in the belief that there is no better time to highlight positive, successful female role models,” says Margaret Black, Managing Director at Lyda Hill Philanthropies. “We seek to further advance women in STEM by empowering current innovators and inspiring the next generation of pioneers.”

Lyda Hill Philanthropies’ unwavering commitment to advancing women in STEM is highlighted through this initiative. According to Margaret, women comprise only a quarter of STEM professionals despite making up half of the college-educated workforce. Recognizing this gap, Margaret and her team decided that the imperative for change was clear.

“The #IfThenSheCan -The Exhibit is a physical manifestation of this goal, created in part with inspiration from a 2016 study led by former Treasurer of the United States Rosie Rios,” Margaret explains. The study found that the 10 largest U.S. cities publicly displayed fewer than a half-dozen statues of real women.”

The exhibit, which includes 120 life-size 3-D printed statues of real women, is a remarkable project celebrating contemporary women’s achievements in STEM. It is the largest 3D-printed project of its kind and made history for the most statues of women ever assembled. Since its debut in 2020, it has captivated the minds of over 4 million people, amplifying the visibility of female role models in STEM.

The process of selecting women to be represented in the statues was meticulous. In 2019, Lyda Hill Philanthropies partnered with the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and established the AAAS IF/THEN® Ambassador program.

“The 120 AAAS IF/THEN® Ambassadors represent a wide range of STEM careers, using their skills in many fields, including research and development, sports and recreation, finance, fashion, gaming, engineering and manufacturing, entertainment, healthcare, conservation, aerospace and more,” Margaret says.

The statues were originally displayed in full at NorthPark Center in 2021. Since then, each Ambassador has chosen a destination important to her and her career journey to be the new home for her statue. The statues have found new homes in 32 US states, Puerto Rico, and Canada. Dallas’s Pegasus Park is still home to over a dozen statues. Other Dallas locations include The Hockaday School, UT Southwestern, and the Girl Scouts Northeast Texas STEM Center for Excellence.

Inspiring middle school-aged girls, in particular, is central to the IF/THEN® Initiative. Margaret says this is a pivotal demographic is often at the precipice of losing interest in STEM subjects.

“Middle school has been identified as a critical period to engage young women in STEM as studies have shown that during these years, girls lose confidence in their STEM skills and become ambivalent towards the subjects,” Margaret says.

She also points to studies that have shown that from an education standpoint, what students are interested in during this period can influence their long term career trajectories.

“By reaching girls at this age, we hope to make a lasting impression on not only what STEM is and how it is all around us but to instill confidence that they too can change the world with STEM,” Margaret shares.

Recognizing this critical juncture, the initiative adopts a multifaceted approach. From funding and elevating women in STEM to convening cross-sector coalitions and producing engaging media content like the TV series “Mission Unstoppable,” targeted efforts are made to reshape perceptions and instill confidence in young girls’ STEM abilities.

“We envision a future in which more women innovators are empowered to solve our greatest global challenges. We hope there will be a generation of girls who are able to look back on this period in their lives as a pivotal moment in their career and life journeys,” Margaret shares.

As Women’s History Month unfolds, the IF/THEN® Initiative serves as a powerful symbol illuminating a path towards a more inclusive and equitable future in STEM for girls and women.

“While reflecting on icons of the past is always important, we hope these modern examples of excellence in STEM careers will inspire generations of changemakers,” Margaret says. “With the extended resources of the IF/THEN® Collection, the content on social media via @ifthenshecan, and the individual work of the AAAS IF/THEN® Ambassadors, we believe the celebrations of Women’s History Month will only grow.”

If you would like to visit the statues, a live map showing their new locations is now available on the IF/THEN® website. More about each of the Ambassadors can be found in the IF/THEN® Collection, the world’s largest free resource library of photos and videos of women in STEM.

Stay tuned! Throughout the month of March, Dallas Doing Good will publish Q&As for IF/THEN Ambassadors who live and work in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex.