Kathryn L. Hong, Artsci’17, MSc’19, at age 23, is the Founder of the Girls SySTEM Mentorship Program, which aims to increase diversity across various STEM disciplines by pairing students, primarily female, with mentors from diverse professional backgrounds.
Growing up in Toronto, Hong developed an interest in science during high school, but didn’t have local access to STEM programs that supported females and other under-represented groups of young learners. In late elementary school, her interests in STEM blossomed when she had the opportunity to attend the E=MC2 program (now EMC) at Queen’s, which introduced her to university labs, facilities, and opportunities. This experience prompted Hong to participate in a cooperative education program during high school that placed her in the Cardiology unit at St. Michael’s Hospital, where she first noticed an underrepresentation of female practitioners. Hong learned that fewer than one in five cardiologists is female, globally, and even more surprisingly, women comprise less than 28 per cent of the greater STEM workforce. It was then that she recognized the importance of giving young women mentors and role models who can instil in them the confidence to succeed in fields where they are not traditionally represented.
Hong attended Queen’s in 2017 for Life Sciences, then returned for her Master’s in Biomedical and Molecular Sciences, where she worked alongside two physicians who, while still innovating the medical field, assumed the role as sponsors and reinforced the importance of mentorship throughout each stage of an individual’s career. Gaining the confidence to pursue medicine and academia in post-graduate study, Hong decided it was critical to create the Girls SySTEM Mentorship Program.
“I wanted to pay it forward,” said Hong. “The Girls SySTEM Mentorship Program was a passion that bled into development. It was through the support of the Queen’s community and grassroots funding through Awesome Kingston and Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada that I was able to bring my vision to life.”
In the spring of 2018, The Girls SySTEM Mentorship Program was founded in Kingston, Ont. The program aims to tackle women's under-representation in STEM, by connecting girls in Grades 7-12 with professional mentors in their desired STEM fields and educating them on the diverse experiences they can have in STEM field through workshops, events, and unique networking opportunities. The program currently has chapters in Kingston and Toronto, encompassing more than 250 mentors, many of whom are Queen’s community members, and more than 450 mentees. Girls SySTEM currently serves only Canadian students but has garnered global interest from young women everywhere through its ever-growing community and extensive, online programming.
The Girls SySTEM Mentorship Program will be accepting applications for new mentees in Grades 7-12 to register soon, and welcome interested mentors and sponsorships to connect with their all-female, student-led executive team.