UC alum creates platform to encourage young women in STEM

Madelyn Leembruggen, now at Harvard, seeks to inspire next gen interest in physics

By Rebecca Schweitzer

Madelyn Leembruggen has long excelled in STEM-related subjects, with the study coming naturally to her. The alumna of UC’s College of Arts and Sciences graduated Phi Beta Kappa with a 4.0 in 2018, with degrees in physics, astrophysics and mathematics.

Leembruggen has long been aware of the lack of representation of women role models for young girls interested in pursuing their STEM passions. Now a PhD candidate in theoretical physics at Harvard, Leembruggen set out to help inspire the next generation of women in STEM.

Toward that end, she and a group of mostly female graduate students at Harvard have created a STEM focused website, “A World of Women in STEM (WOWSTEM): Celebrating women+ STEM heroes of past, present and future.” Directed to women interested in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math, the site designates its audience as "women+," to be inclusive of all women and gender minority individuals. 

A&S physics, astrophysics and mathematics alumna Madelyn Leembruggen

A&S physics, astrophysics and mathematics alumna Madelyn Leembruggen

“We want to spark discussions about STEM in homes, as parents watch videos with their kids or do experiments and activities together. We want to encourage future STEMists to pursue their interests. More than anything, we want to inspire curiosity and a lifelong love of science and math in the next generation of students, and especially in young women+.”

The initial idea was for an accelerated summer course for high school students, but when this was cancelled due to COVID-19, Leembruggen’s friends motivated her to develop this learning platform. Today the site includes blog posts featuring women pioneers in STEM such as Shirley Ann Jackson, the first Black woman to earn a PhD from MIT, articles and activities on observational astronomy, ancient math and measuring star speeds, and a community forum.

 Inspired as an undergrad

During her time in A&S, Leembruggen volunteered with Physics Department initiatives and at physics demonstration events for high schoolers as well as serving as an A&S Ambassador. 

“I most appreciated the liberal arts education I received at A&S,” Leembruggen said. “I was actively encouraged to take classes outside my major throughout my degrees. This gave me an appreciation for how the physical sciences, social sciences, and humanities depend on one another and prepared me well for the interdisciplinary work I do now.”

 "We want to inspire curiosity"

A&S alumna Madelyn Leembruggen and the board of WOWSTEM

A&S alumna Madelyn Leembruggen and the board of WOWSTEM

According to Leembruggen, a large number of influential women and minorities in scientific history go unrecognized for their work. Through the website, she hopes to help others to learn about these individuals and their contributions in STEM, as well as reach young individuals with a passion for the field.  

“Our goal for WOW STEM was always to create a space where people can get excited about STEM,” Leembruggen said. “Online spaces for learning have become increasingly important, but we also hope that our site will have more far-reaching impacts.

“To me, WOW STEM has been an effort to make the kind of content that I would have loved to see when I was a young girl,” she added. “It’s been immensely rewarding for me to collaborate with the members of our board and our contributors. This project means a lot to all of us and it’s exhilarating to do big things with amazing people.”