For Alicia Abella, the path to becoming a leading female STEM professional started in a high school computer science class in the 1980s, reports U.S. News. Learning basic programming skills piqued her interest, and she began considering the potential proliferation of computers and the many career possibilities a degree in the sciences could open for her.

Years later, after earning a bachelor’s degree from New York University and a Ph.D. from Columbia, Abella is now the executive director of technical research at AT&T Labs and a vocal spokesperson about the potential for other women to find similar success in a STEM field. Abella spoke with U.S. News about the challenges of inclusivity in STEM fields, and how the effort to get more women involved might take a multifaceted approach to be successful.

“One of the things that we can do … is really to expose these young girls and young women to role models who are in the field to make them recognize that, in fact, you don’t have to really fit [the] stereotype,” she said. “I [often] hear … how we need to make math and science more fun and exciting for students, and while I agree that’s true … we don’t want to fool [young women] into thinking it’s all fun and games. It is a hard field to go into, but we want to get them to recognize it’s worth putting in that hard work and effort, because the rewards are so great.”

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