Erika Bowen, 25 – FUNDED

Erika Bowen wants to improve how we produce and use stem cells to treat disease through engineering research and development. Her next step in the journey to her dream is completing her Ph.D. program in Biomedical Engineering at University of Georgia (UGA), where she also received her bachelor’s degree in Biological Engineering. This New Face of Tech winner also has an associate’s degree in Physics and Computer Science from the University of North Georgia (UNG).

What does being the New Face of Tech mean to you?

I hope that, by showing my face and telling my story, I can show other girls like me that a Ph. D. in engineering is certainly possible for anyone. Women have just as much of a right to be in engineering as anyone else and are so needed to bring new perspectives to innovation.

Women are underrepresented in STEAM. How can we change this?

I believe the sponsoring of K-12 STEAM activities can increase the participation of girls in related fields, but retaining those girls is a different question. If we don’t change the environment in STEAM to be more open to women, then these girls will not stay.

The current climate can be changed by making sure that, after those girls leave high school, they join a college that has support groups for women in STEAM as well as faculty who support those women by facilitating cooperative learning, showing inclusive examples and content, providing broad applications of concepts (including social sciences, as girls have been shown to have increased interest in this), and more.

This can happen through better faculty training in the classroom and more funding and guidance for academic clubs and organizations supporting women. Over time, repeated exposure to these ideas and normalization of women in STEAM can create a shift in society to make women feel more comfortable and safe to pursue STEAM fields.

What are some of the challenges you have faced along the way?

I’ve really had three main challenges throughout my academic career.

First was accepting that things won’t always go my way but everything happens for a reason. The University of Georgia (UGA) was not my top pick for my school, but I am so happy I ended up here — despite being set back a bit in my academic process. This campus has presented so many opportunities for self-improvement and helping others that I feel I wouldn’t have accomplished at other universities. I had to learn to accept ‘no’ sometimes and recognize that it is leading to a better path for me.

Second was realizing that most things in life are not guaranteed and that I need to make the most of my life while I have it. I lost someone very close to me in 2019 and, through grief, found new inspiration to help my community and achieve my goals. I make sure that I am telling my loved ones how much they mean to me and, essentially, making sure that I am leaving a place better than I found it.

Third is that I can’t be comfortable — or that means I’m not improving. COVID quarantine, while comfortable, didn’t result in improving my ability to lead, present, and work in a lab. I recognize now I have to put in those hours in person to make sure I’m getting the most out of my academic career. More importantly, I need to be putting myself in front of crowds and presenting as much as I can to improve my speaking skills while pushing through social anxiety.

How do you stay motivated and focused on your goals?

I keep a markerboard in my office that lists all the things I need to get done for the week. If my tasks are staring me in the face, I do them. And if I get the tasks done, I will have time to do other things like volunteer, research, and spend time with loved ones.

I am further motivated by personal goals I have set for myself. I’d like to see, by the end of each semester, a paper in the works or a conference I have presented at. These are long-term goals that take a lot of time to complete, but are extremely important to me to show that I am improving as an individual.

I am also motivated by the fact that my work is novel and exciting for the regenerative medicine field. Not only is my project answering unknown questions to benefit society, but other students are working in collaboration with me to create something great.

How will funding from the 1,000 Dreams Fund and HARMAN help you reach your goals?

This micro-grant can be used to pay fees for the upcoming semester which of course directly supports my career. Additional money can be used to upgrade my PC. My work heavily involves 3D modeling and computational fluid dynamics simulation; simulations can take me up to eight hours, but that could be decreased down to five hours if my PC had better capabilities.