It seems we have reached a point in our society where certain industries are recognizing the incredible potential of tapping into the next generation of STEM employees and innovators at a time when there aren’t enough people to fill the amount of jobs that are growing everyday. More specifically, tapping into the largely ignored female market which has become the focus of major companies such as Google shows that stereotyping girls away from typically male-dominated jobs is detrimental to STEM industries.
And that’s not even going into the numerous grass roots initiatives and smaller companies launching with the specific intent to get girls interested in STEM careers. But it’s not just the science, tech, engineering and math worlds where these skills are needed. We’ve been following how companies such as Marvel are using films such as ‘Ant Man’ and ‘Captain America’ as leverage for campaigns to encourage girls to realize the exciting career possibilities of using STEM skills in entertainment. CGI animation, is one example.
Marvel are not just using their big-ticket blockbuster films to promote STEM initiatives, they are also utilizing the huge popularity of their comics to reach a growing female audience and encourage them with not only their fictional characters, but real life role models who work in STEM industries.
The recently-launched ‘The Unstoppable WASP’ comic series has started including a regular feature in its letters pages. Readers will get to learn about 2 female scientists which they hope will inspire them to know what is possible in real life, after reading the comic itself. WASP is written by Jeremy Whitley and illustrated by artist Elsa Charretier, who wanted to come up with a way to bring their central character, Nadia Pym, to life in a unique way.
Jeremy credits Elsa with the idea for the column in the letter section of the comic in a news announcement on Marvel’s website about the new series.
“I had been kicking around that I wanted to do some outreach to STEM and women in science and she came up with an idea. She would draw headshots and we’d do a little profile on female scientists,” he said.
It was also a perfect fit alongside the main Nadia Pym storyline and character, he noted. Nadia is the daughter of Hank Pym, who was featured in the ‘Ant-Man’ movie. Nadia is also the daughter of Maria Trovaya, the daughter of Dr Janos Trovaya, an Hungarian geneticist and entromologist.
According to Bleedingcool.com, in 1966 comic about Hank Pym, Maria was kidnapped on their honeymoon and assumed dead. It turns out she wasn’t, and had a daughter who was victim of the Red Roon, a Soviet training facility in Marvel Comics that was created to train highly specialized spies, including both Black Widows Natalia Romanova and Yelena Belova.
Nadia Pym is a teen scientist who is adjusting to her new role as a superhero away from the Red Room. The Unstoppable WASP picks up her story at this new juncture in her life. With this being the premise of the series, the idea for the real life scientists feature coincided nicely with their fictional character.
“It made perfect sense to us to highlight female scientists who really are shaping our future. We already knew several women who fit this description and were comics readers, so the idea of sharing their awesome work with the rest of our audience seemed like something that had to happen,” Jeremy told Marvel.
The original idea was to promote the female scientists on Twitter or Tumblr, but the integration with the comics worked out well. The features are collated under the acronym G.I.R.L, which stands for Genius In Action Research Labs, and many of the scientists are already fans of the Marvel Comics.
In the December edition, they featured Rachel Silverstein, a proboscidean paleontologist who studies extinct elephant fossils, and Marina Chanidou, a PhD student at a UK university studying Chemistry, specifically Analytical Chemistry. When asked who their (real or fictional) female science superheroes were, Marina’s answer proved just how important Marvel’s feature really is.
She couldn’t remember reading about any fictional female scientists in books growing up, but she did have a female science teacher who inspired her.
“She asked us in class how many of us had taken something apart to see what it looks like and the people who raised their hands were mostly boys and me. She said it is okay for girls to experiment, to mess with things, to fix things and find out how things work,” she said.
In February’s edition, G.I.R.L featured Jin Kim Montclare, a professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering, and Raychelle Burks, Ph.D., a chemistry professor. Raychelle spoke about being a black female scientist and the additional barriers people of color have historically faced in the STEM fields.
“Margot Lee Shetterly’s great book ‘Hidden Figures’ (now a feature film) speaks to such struggles. While gains have been made in accessibility, we have a long way to go in making STEM careers equally within reach for woman of color and other under-represented minorities,” she said.
As an educator and researcher, Jin spoke of the incredible value of mentors in her career, which is why she now mentors and encourages other girls to get into STEM fields.
“My path was made possible through the support of my mentors from K-12 to now, so I do my part by encouraging other young women to pursue STEM. More than half the students I mentor directly at NYU are women, and I am quite proud of it!” she said.
For young readers especially, immersing themselves in the Nadia Pym story line, then getting a glimpse of what a real career in the sciences looks like is invaluable. It is the power of entertainment to not just entertain, but to inform and influence in a powerful and exciting way. We hope this momentum continues at Marvel!