Eight women, each with their own prestigious title in the science, technology, engineering and math fields, took time out of their trip across the United States to visit North Alabama on Tuesday.
The women were part of a larger group of international delegates who came to the States as part of the Hidden No More International Visitor Leadership Program. The program highlights the "hidden talent" of participants and alumni who are exploring and advancing policies that champion women in STEM.
"The program is very exciting," said Manisha Dwa, project coordinator with the Nepal Astronomical Society. "... We got to meet 50 leaders from respective nations. We got to learn their ideas, their cultural aspects and much more about America. We had been reading some things in general while in our countries or online, but while we were here, we got to see face-to-face, in person, and that is something I can't explain."
Global Ties Alabama hosted the women during their tour of North Alabama, which included visits to J.F. Drake State Community and Technical College, the U.S. Space and Rocket Center, Hudson Alpha Institute of Biotechnology and Alabama Robotics Technology Park. They also visited with women leaders in Huntsville and Madison County, and with the FIRST Robotics team at Mae Jemison High School.
"It's been emotional for me," said Paolo Daniela Ochoa Paniagua, who works in experimental sciences and astronomy in Bolivia. "The museums, the factories, the people, the women, my friends ... it's emotional to look at the women at work in your country. The vision in the city — it's wonderful."
Dwa, Ochoa Paniagua and their six co-participants were able to explore the robotics park and even try out some of the robots. At one point, Andreja Gomboc, a professor of astronomy at the Center for Astrophysics and Cosmology at the University of Nova Gorica, questioned how many of the students who train at the park were women.
The tour guide estimated only about 10% of individuals who were sent to the park by their employer for training were female. He said the number was rising, but it was still a sign that improvement was needed.
For the group, this wasn't exactly new knowledge.
"I've been doing so many programs," Dwa said. "Prior to this, before I came to the States, I had a meeting at the Ministry of Education, and we were trying to partner with some of the organizations who are working in the STEM field. ... I posed the same question. If you are representing something and you are talking about some of the other women, why are the other women from your company or organization not here? It happens everywhere, but we are trying to check and balance."
Why? Because women are the future, she said.
"We cover half of the world's population," Dwa said. "If one woman is educated, she's going to educate her whole family, whole community and whole nation. ... It is important to us."
Ochoa Paniagua agreed.
"It's really important (to support women in STEM)," she said. "The future is the woman, and the future is technology and science."
This was Ochoa Paniagua's first visit to the United States, and she and Dwa each said they were amazed at how well they had been received.
"We are treated like someone out of the world, like Wonder Woman," Dwa said. "The people are very helpful. They are taking care of us in every aspect. They are not letting us have any share of scarcity."
The group finished their tour of the robotics park by using a computer and robot to cut a piece of sheet metal so that it had the words "HIDDEN NO MORE" on it.
Those interested in learning more about other stops on the North Alabama tour can like the "Global Ties Alabama" Facebook page or follow @GlobalTiesAL on Twitter and Instagram. Participants and hosts are also using #HiddenNoMore to share the program.
GTA was established in 1965 to help international military trainees at Redstone Arsenal feel welcome in the community. Today, they continue to host international visitors traveling to Alabama as part of the U.S. Department of State's International Visitor Leadership Program.
Opportunities are available for those who would like to serve as home hospitality hosts — a person who hosts a meal or activity — and host families — a person or group who can provide overnight accommodations and transportation for international guests. Call 256-532-3560 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more.