Lilley Fellow Ishani Khanna '25 Analyzes Women in STEM Initiatives to Empower Next Generation

On Thursday, Feb. 22, Lilley Fellow Ishani Khanna '25 shared her research and findings with her Upper School peers and teachers in the Class of 1944 Chapel.

Ishani spent months analyzing Women in STEM initiatives to understand the gender gap in the industry and do her part to empower the next generation in the field.

"Why is it that one of the most progressive and democratic countries in the world continues to have a wide gender gap in STEM education, jobs, and salary?" she asked rhetorically. "Now, more than ever, the future of the US, its economic prosperity, stability, and position as a global leader, depends on an effective and inclusive STEM education system."

After learning that only 28 percent of women currently occupy the STEM field—and an ever lower percentage of women occupy the top CEO, medical director positions, and other positions of power—Ishani sought to understand why. What she found was that since a majority of high school students follow their interests when pursuing a major in college, "the number of women graduating with a STEM degree is much lower due to their lack of interest in STEM, pre-college." Furthermore, there are "embedded systemic barriers hindering women who are in the STEM field from reaching the highest positions, which not only harms their careers but also puts women at a significant economic disadvantage," Ishani said. Plus, a lack of role models and mentors in the field was another hindrance. 

To learn more, Ishani reviewed abundant literature on women in STEM; interviewed leaders in Women and Girls in STEM organizations, STEM industry leaders, and EA STEM teachers to "collect perspectives on existing programs and recommendations for future initiatives;" and researched the success of former President Obama's 2013 national, five-year STEM Education Strategic Plan. With her findings, she produced a report and recommendations, as well as moved forward in creating a program that "could be implemented at any school to most effectively increase female participation in STEM fields."

Using EA's Middle School as a pilot, she created a "Girls in STEM for Middle School" program of four, 45-minute sessions.

"Each week, Girls in STEM for Middle School met with content targeting as many fields and careers in STEM as possible and areas identified by my research and recommendations," she explained. "I invited guest speakers, ran different activities based on the field of the speaker, and introduced the girls to several fields within environmental science, chemistry, and computer science." She also made the girls aware of how to "overcome the barriers in the STEM field and society and the systems in place that make it more difficult for women to be successful."

However, the most important part of the program, Ishani believed, was the opportunity for the girls to bond with the board members of the Upper School Girls in STEM Club. "This mentorship will continue throughout the year to foster the relationships between the girls, inspire them to continue pursuing STEM, and give them excellent role models."

Moving forward, Ishani is excited to see the Girls in STEM for Middle School students' work displayed for community. She also plans to continue developing additional programming for Girls in STEM, disseminate her findings to other schools, and report on the program's progress to inform future programs.

"I hope that my program can lead the way to expand participation in STEM courses, clubs, and future programs at EA and schools across the globe," she said. "STEM careers will be on the front line to solve global challenges, protect the planet, and empower underserved communities. It is so imperative that women are given the opportunity and encouragement to be part of the dialogue and have a voice in developing solutions."

Mr. Matthew Davis served as Ishani’s mentor.

Established in 2018 by Mr. and Mrs. William Lilley III ’55, the Lilley Fellowship Fund awards research fellowships to students who exemplify academic curiosity, intellectual rigor, and scholarly passion. The Fellowship program is overseen by Director of Libraries Lorie Harding, and is modeled after Yale University's Scholars of the House program that ran from 1945-1995.