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A Peek into the Life of a Magic Mentor: Pi-Chuan Chang

As a young girl born and raised in Taiwan, Pi-Chuan always had an interest in STEM. Currently, she is a very successful software engineer at Google, and a mentor with MAGIC. Though she was able to push forward into exploring a STEM career, and later come to America in 2004 to do her Ph.D., Pi-Chuan faced many challenges as a woman within the male-dominated STEM field. However, understanding the challenges that women in STEM face, Pi-Chuan was able to discover, volunteer with, and eventually find a home within MAGIC in order to further encourage young girls to follow their dreams.

Mathematics had always been Pi-Chuan's favorite subject. As a child, she had a strong passion for STEM, and was inspired to look further into the field by her female elementary math and science teachers, who acted as her role models. Pi-Chuan explained that in Taiwan, before high school, the only role models children had were their teacher and mentors, so it was very important for her that she had female teachers to look up to. In high school, Pi-Chuan decided to take steps towards understanding and fulfilling her passion for math and science, with the environment supporting her, and being filled with family and friends who welcomed the idea.

However, there she saw that women perceived that they were not made for STEM, but for the humanities instead. She noticed a majority of her STEM teachers were male; however, using her female teachers as inspiration, Pi-Chuan didn't shy away from the idea of STEM. She says, "If I saw that all the teachers were male, then I wouldn't want to do it [STEM]. The fact that they were women was what kept me going". Pushing forward with her passion for STEM, Pi-Chuan was able to do her undergraduate in Computer Science when in Taiwan, and then came to America in 2004 to do her Ph.D.

In 2008, Pi-Chuan went to a Bay Area panel discussion and heard about MAGIC. Immediately, the idea connected with her. Pi-Chuan says she was always thinking about what she could do in her life to help other people in other ways than just work, and the idea of MAGIC being education-related further drew her in. "The opportunity was perfect for me," Pi-Chuan says. "Discovering this opportunity was great, and the one-on-one mentoring was amazing."

Ever since that moment, she has been involved with MAGIC in many different ways. She's been a mentor since then, and has had nine mentees so far: three high school and six middle school girls. Pi-Chuan believes that MAGIC's setting of a one-on-one personalized mentorship is what gives her the best experience, providing her some of the best times of mentoring. Commenting on how connecting with the mentees allows for a better teaching/learning experience, Pi-Chuan says, "I love the moment when the mentees figure something out and make that connection. Just being able to see that they are interested in something, and seeing them in person is what makes me happy."

Over her time with MAGIC, Pi-Chuan has been able to grow as a mentor by collaborating with other mentors, and by looking through the different shared materials. She has also seen MAGIC grow tremendously, with a stronger structure being formed, an online curriculum, and with mentees documenting their projects.

From being with MAGIC, Pi-Chuan has been able to work with many young girls, and work towards her goal of spreading STEM to girls. Pi-Chuan is able to get her mentees involved deeply in their projects, allowing them to further understand and appreciate STEM. She achieves this through a step-by-step process with her mentees, helping them identify what they want, and involving them in the decision process. In order to begin the journey, Pi-Chuan believes the first step is thinking of a way to engage the mentees in conversation. She knows that getting the girls to talk and explore their own ideas openly is the first of many steps to breaking the stereotypes of women in STEM.

When Pi-Chuan thinks about the emphasis on beauty and prettiness for women today, she worries about her high school mentees who don't want to fully approach STEM because it's not "pretty" or "for girls". She commented that one of her high school mentees asked her if it's possible and okay to be both pretty and smart; Pi-Chuan thought, "It's sad to think that a lot of girls have that question. It's subconsciously there in most of us".

Through her mentoring, Pi-Chuan continues to fight the stereotypes and teach young girls that it's okay to love and embrace STEM as a woman, so that when there is a good number women in STEM, then there wouldn't be such questions at all. She wants to make STEM and robotics appealing to girls, showing them that it is just as pretty as the rest of the world. "I make pretty things," she says, "and the way I do that is through robotics, through STEM." She hopes to get rid of the idea that STEM is ugly, and that those ugly things aren't for women. Every day, mentoring is a new experience for Pi-Chuan Chang, as she learns from her mentees, and prepares these young women for this world by teaching them that women are made for STEM.

By Shreya Basireddy,
Notre Dame High School, San Jose, CA.