Raising Nerd’s Women In Science
Meet Anna Painter, STEAM Teacher and Curious Mind
At Raising Nerd, we recognize that we are raising children for jobs that do not yet exist. Being a STEAM teacher today is the perfect example of that. Tell us how you became a STEAM teacher.
In some ways, the answer is by accident; in other ways, I’ve been waiting my whole life for this job! I was always interested in math and science from a very early age. My mother (a kindergarten teacher with a biology degree) had a saying, “It’s better than magic. It’s science!” We were always discussing why things happened as a family, from simple things like why there was frost on the inside of the windshield to trying to figure out why engineers had built things in particular ways. It was a natural part of growing up to ask questions–my parents could sometimes answer them, and if they couldn’t, we would reason as a family with what we did know to come up with possible explanations (this in the world before Google had all the answers, of course).
“Frankly, in science we learn a whole lot more when our experiments don’t go to plan than when everything happens the way we think it does!”
I went to college (Colby College, Waterville, ME) knowing that I wanted to be a geology major. My interest had been peaked in 7th grade science with Mr. Myler: it was earth science, and I was fascinated by rocks and what they can tell us about the world millions of years ago. In college, I never thought of myself being in a field dominated by men, although 5 out of 6 of my college professors were men. My father had instilled in me a knowledge that I was capable and strong (his two catch phrases for me were always “I am woman… Hear me roar!” and “Give ’em hell, kid.”), but also to not think of myself as a victim. So honestly, I don’t remember ever feeling held back because I was a woman, or felt that I met challenges particular to my gender in geology. I was bright and hardworking, and my male colleagues and professors saw me as an academic talent rather than a gender.
After graduating, I decided to pursue an education degree, thinking that I what I’d like to do was be an elementary science teacher. Since those jobs are actually few and far between (most elementary schools have the classroom teaching science), I ended up being a classroom teacher for almost 10 years before coming to Lincoln. Lincoln’s job posting for a STEM specialist seemed like a perfect combination of my talents–here was a job, inspiring young girls, teaching them all the coolest things about science, and throwing in the idea of tinkering and figuring out how things work. Added to the fact it was a Quaker school (I grew up Quaker and went to a Quaker high school), and it was my dream job! I really do believe I have the best job in the world. Children are naturally curious and it is my job to nurture and foster that curiosity. We ask questions and figure out ways to answer them.
What advice would you give to girls interested in pursuing your specific field?
My advice is to embrace making mistakes. Realizing that we don’t always get things right the first time, and not letting that discourage us, is an essential skill for life, not just science and engineering. Frankly, in science we learn a whole lot more when our experiments don’t go to plan than when everything happens the way we think it does!
Tell us about a time when you failed and how you overcame it or recovered from it.
As a senior in high school, I applied to 4 colleges. My first choice was Bates College in Lewiston, ME. My best friend and I had both applied, and it was also on the top of her list. When our letters came in (and I went to boarding school, so our letters were in open mailboxes for all to see), my friend had been accepted, and I had been wait-listed. She was supportive, saying that if I waited I would probably get in, but I decided that if they didn’t want me, I didn’t want them. I fully embraced going to one of the other three colleges that I had gotten into, finally settling on Colby. It was a really hard blow to my self-esteem not to be accepted, but I decided that I wasn’t going to dwell on it, and I would be happy with my other choices. I made a decision, and never looked back! (And in the end, I know now that Colby was a better fit for me anyway!)
Where do you anticipate the next big opportunity for girls in your field and what can they do to position themselves for success?
I’m not sure that I have any idea what the next big thing is, but I do know that it will require our girls to be flexible, critical thinkers. Being willing to learn more, and admit when we’re wrong, will be key, no matter your field!
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Celebrating Women in Science
February 11th is International Women & Girls in Science Day, so please join us in honoring these amazing women by sharing their stories and reminding every girl interested in STEM that with the desire, access, and a little persistence, they can do anything!
To read more about our tribute to the Women of Science, click here.