Emmie Panigrahi: Creating a Safe Space For Women In Science


The Panigrahi Family

Emersen and her younger sister lead a WiSTEM+ workshop at their local boys and girls club.

Emmie Panigrahi, a senior at OHS, is devoted to providing a safe, inclusive space to support Women in STEM+ fields. Between her full-time academics, competitive fencing, and position as the board chair of arts on student government, she co-founded WiSTEM+, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to empower Women in STEM+ fields. Now,she continues to co-lead the Women in STEM+ club and empower her fellow classmates.

We wanted to do our part to provide a space where [young women] can explore their interests and feel comfortable just being themselves.

— Emmie Panigrahi

Her motivations behind founding this club which eventually developed into a global nonprofit organization were simple: provide opportunities to women where opportunities do not always always exist. “Growing up, my parents and everyone around me always supported me and my sisters to follow our interests in STEM, and we started to recognize that that wasn’t universal as we got older.”
Emmie says that she and her two sisters, Sophia and Kiki Panigrahi, realized that “a lot of young women were not being presented with opportunities or a safe space to share their interests in STEM and explore what they wanted to”. Despite the many clubs and circles OHS had to offer, they saw that there was not a community specifically to support women in STEM or medical fields.
In response to this, they founded the Women in STEM+ club. “We wanted to do our part to provide a space where [young women] can explore their interests and feel comfortable just being themselves,” Emmie explains.
When asked about the stereotypes surrounding women who are interested in STEM fields, Emmie says, “I think a lot of the time girls are told they can’t go into STEM or should stick to the more ‘traditional’ careers.” Over the years, Emmie has connected with many young women who have a passion surrounding STEM whose families or community discouraged them from pursuing those interests. These young women are often told to leave those careers to men. She hopes to spread awareness about this issue and remind these young women that they belong where their interests lie.
The WiSTEM+ club has hosted a range of guest speakers who have discussed these issues. Emmie says “after talking to them about their experiences, I think we see it changing, but the rate at which it’s changing is slow.” These guest speakers have explained how the same inequalities Emmie has seen in her community exist in the industry today, despite the movement to make a change.
The club’s primary message is that women are capable of anything, and despite the existence of these stereotypes, they should feel qualified and confident in everything they do. She describes the WiSTEM+ club as being collaborative, fun, and inspiring.
Emmie says, “I’m inspired by all of the women in that club and everything they do every day” and is grateful that she has created a community that supports and inspires her.
Emmie admits that at times, it is hard to find the motivation to keep up all of her activities. She explains how she finds balance and puts what matters first by prioritizing “what [she] genuinely like[s],” and adds that running the Women in STEM+ club “doesn’t feel like work to me. It feels like I’m actually making a change.” Despite the challenges, she explains how she makes sure everything she does brings joy to her life and community. She also says that time management and a positive attitude are vital to her successes.
Looking back at her time spent at OHS, she says that she has discovered the importance of an open-mindset. “If I were to give advice to my freshman self, I would say take the time to explore what you like to explore.” In the beginning, she says she confined herself to a certain set of interests that society tried to push upon her, but that prevented her from exploring other passions. “I may have just been interested in biology, but now I’m interested in the intersection of art and biology and literature and everything that follows down that path.” Being open to new things allowed her to find new interests and happiness.
When asked what advice she would give to the student body, she responded, “I wish I would have taken more time to go out with friends and focus on something besides school”.
Looking into the future, Emmie plans on attending college and hopes the women in STEM+ club will continue to empower women in STEM. “I am currently in the midst of college applications. I’m trying to keep a positive attitude and figure out where I want to go and what I want to do,” she explains. She is interested in biology, art, literature, photography, gender studies, and political science and hopes to explore all of these interests in depth to find what it is she wants to pursue to a higher level.
As for the future of the Women in STEM+ club, she hopes that her younger sister Kiki will take over for her next year and continue to pass it down. “I hope it provides a safe space where women can come, connect with others, and find a group that inspires and supports them because at the heart of it, that’s really what it’s all about.”
She encourages anyone to join whether or not they are interested in STEM. She says “We are focused on STEM, but really, we are just a group of women supporting women, and that’s what I love about it most.”
Emmie continues to empower others within and beyond the OHS community. She hopes her influence will inspire others to follow their passions, saying “Feel empowered to pursue what you like to pursue.”