STEM, which refers to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics professions, has been a major big-picture topic with regard to professional life in the United States.
Former President Obama was vocal in his support of getting more young Americans, especially young women, involved in STEM-related fields, and in 2015, Obama pledged $240 million in STEM commitments.
Much more recently, the Biden-Harris administration has also made STEM a priority.
So why is STEM so important? Primarily, STEM professions are important for maintaining a strong economy and making sure that the US remains competitive in these fields.
There’s been a strong emphasis on women working in STEM because many of these fields have traditionally been dominated by men, and the number of women enrolling in STEM programs at the university level was relatively low.
But this old status quo is finally starting to change, and we have with us today a STEM professional who’s proof positive of that change.
We will be delving into the value of STEM and the steadily changing gender dynamics of professionals that fall under this category, and we’ll be doing this through the lens of Aleksandra Baengueva’s career.
Aleksandra is an award-winning UX/UI and product designer who’s currently working with the insurance company Chubb. Her past work on major websites for G/O Media and APT212 showcased her exceptional design skills, and crucial for this discussion in particular, Aleksandra is an advocate for women working in STEM, and she’ll be sharing her own experiences and insights on the topic along the way.
We’ll begin by covering Aleksandra’s design work and its convergence with core STEM concepts, then discuss how more women can pursue STEM careers and the benefits of these careers.
If there’s a young woman in your life who’s trying to decide on a university program and future career path, there’s a lot of great info here regarding the reality of STEM professions. Let’s get started.
Aleksandra Baengueva and the Impact of UX & UI
For newcomers, the initialisms UX and UI refer to user experience and user interface, and so UX and UI design is the process of crafting and subsequently altering interfaces and other elements to ensure that users have a positive software experience.
For the average user, UX design only tends to be noticeable when something’s not quite right. You’re bound to notice this when you’re having a frustrating experience with a website, mobile app, or computer program.
But when skilled UX and UI designers are working behind the scenes, you probably won’t notice all the little decisions that went into making the software easy and convenient to use.
Aleksandra is an expert in UX and UI design, and her skills in the area have landed her jobs working on major sites and projects.
At the moment, Aleksandra is a UX/UI designer with Chubb, where she focuses on a portal where insurance agents input information about clients and businesses. Because this portal is meant for new clients, it needs to be the best possible experience for these new users.
To make sure the portal is addressing key needs and concerns, Aleksandra does a lot of behind-the-scenes work to better understand what users want.
“I do research, interviewing users to learn about their pain points, and create wireframes, designs, and prototypes. Also, I present my work to stakeholders and other teams to receive additional feedback.”
Another important aspect of this portal is its aim of helping small businesses simplify their workflows. Chubb works with many small businesses, and those businesses need to be able to enter information seamlessly with Chubb, without adding unnecessary hassle to their routine.
But that’s not all. Yet another source of complexity for this project is the nature of the insurance profession itself, which Aleksandra speaks to here:
“I like to work with complexity, and the insurance field can be quite complex because of the different rules and processes associated with creating quotes. Every segment and type of business needs to have an individual approach, so the project becomes huge and complex, which is interesting to work with.”
Thankfully, Aleksandra has been able to manage this complexity and create something that’s easy to use and which delivers immediate value to a wide variety of users.
Now that we understand what Aleksandra’s been working on and her mastery of relevant design concepts, let’s take a look at how UX/UI and web design intersect with STEM.
Aleksandra first encountered STEM concepts back in university, when she started learning more about the technical side of web design and UX/UI design.
Similarly, UX/UI design relies heavily on the underlying technology, and not only software but also the capabilities of the hardware that’s going to be running the software.
Early in her career, Aleksandra knew that she had the unique ability to combine the intangible, more subjective side of design with the technical elements that made it all possible.
And it’s definitely important to highlight the less technical side of STEM to provide a more complete view of what these jobs are like from day to day and what it takes to succeed in these fields.
Not just technical
So what are the more subjective elements of design and other STEM professions? Referring specifically to UX/UI design, Aleksandra listed many of the disciplines that designers reference during the course of their work.
“This field pulls research from cognitive psychology, sociology, behavioral science, architecture, and technology design. It has disciplines around ideation, iterative design, and the processes that result in creating good software or other technologies.”
It’s an extensive list, but it’s still just the tip of the iceberg. Certain descriptions of STEM careers may seem to imply that many of these careers are purely technical, and some of them certainly are. But that impression shouldn’t scare someone off from STEM as a whole, as Aleksandra points out here:
“There are a great variety of interesting fields in STEM, and it’s not only about science and mathematics concepts. STEM education includes problem-solving, critical thinking, creativity, curiosity, decision-making, leadership, entrepreneurship, acceptance of failure, and more.”
Many STEM careers offer far more variety than you might expect, and the same goes for the community of STEM professionals. It’s a major misconception that anyone working in STEM must be an emotionless, tunnel-vision robot. This simply isn’t true.
“It’s a great community where people support each other. There’s a competitive side, too, but that sense of competition leads to innovation and helping others.”
So now we come to the big question: are more women getting involved in STEM careers? Are the demographics of STEM professions changing in a meaningful way?
In summary, yes, there are more women getting involved in STEM, though the shift, so far, has been relatively minor, especially when it comes to computer science. Also when it comes to demographics, African American and Hispanic women are still drastically underrepresented in many STEM-related fields.
But looking to the future, the good news here is that the landscape is indeed changing, and given the executive branch’s continued interest in promoting STEM careers, especially to young women, there are strong signs that more women will be attracted to STEM careers. And aside from subject matter and skill sets, it definitely doesn’t hurt that STEM careers tend to come with substantial compensation, to say the least.
For Aleksandra’s part, she’s happy to see the start of what will likely be a major shift.
“I’m glad to see more women working in STEM. There’s still room for more women in STEM, of course, but I think it’s important to acknowledge that there’s been a lot of progress.”
Looking back on her university days, Aleksandra also noticed a substantial interest in STEM concepts, even from students who weren’t necessarily considering entering these fields themselves.
“Back in school, I had classmates who came from many different backgrounds and had their own interests in graphic design, marketing, and fashion, and they all showed an interest in coding and creating websites. Even if they didn’t end up working in STEM, they definitely understood its importance.”
This is an important concept to end on: STEM represents careers, products, tools, and research that are absolutely vital to so many different aspects of our daily lives, and anyone willing to pursue STEM at the professional level will have the opportunity to contribute to the world of the future.