Women of Color in STEM, Iowa Spotlight
If you can see it, you can be it! We know representation matters. This series is dedicated to spotlighting amazing Iowa women of color who are shaping our state with their contributions in STEM careers. These innovative women of color are paving the way for generations to come. The Iowa Afterschool Alliance, through our work with Million Girls Moonshot, has a mission to engage girls to re-imagine who can build, who can make, and who will change the world of STEM. Keep reading to learn more about these Iowans we think you should know!
Necole McGary has a BS in Business Management and an MS in Mathematics from Northern Illinois University, a Masters of Ministry from Temple Baptist Seminary, and a Masters of Divinity from Piedmont International University. She has taught at DMACC since 2011, serving as a mathematics group leader at Urban Campus and a member of the Curriculum Commission.
McGary has been instrumental in creating new pathways to success for her students. She helped develop the curriculum for a Math Study Skills course and created and piloted an Accelerated Math HiSet (High School Equivalency Test) program which led to more students passing the mathematics portion of the test.
She genuinely cares about her students as people first and believes that when the community celebrates the success of the individuals it strengthens the community.
The Iowa Afterschool Alliance had the pleasure of sitting down with Nicole McGary to ask her some questions about her life, her research, her passion for STEM, and the education of young people in Iowa.
Interviewer: What did you want to be when you grew up?
McGary: I actually was that weird kid… I knew what I didn’t want to be. I didn’t want to be like everybody else. I will tell you, I never wanted to be a teacher! It’s so funny, I was in church, and I teach in church all the time, and they said, “You need to be a teacher”. Uh, no. I’ll teach in the church, but I’ll never teach out in the real world. And then, all of a sudden I’d graduated with my bachelor’s, and I thought, Lord, what’s next? And I just woke up one morning thinking, ‘teacher certification’. Alright, well let’s go for that in math, (because that was the only thing I knew how to do). I decided to go for a Masters because that would pay for the teacher certification. I worked on the side at a community college and fell in love with it. I found my passion.
Interviewer: Why is it important for young people to experience math programs?
McGary: It’s important for students to see beyond the level of education that they have and that math can be fun. Kids need the opportunity to see that there’s more to a school than just sitting at their desks and being bored.
What would you say to a student who’s struggling in math and might doubt their ability to find a career in the STEM field?
Don’t put limitations on yourself, you can do it, it will just take time. I’ll share my story with them. I’ve gone through the anxiety, the panic attacks. In fact, it happened to me at the worst time, at a midterm and on a final. I tell them it’s human to err, it’s human to be afraid, that’s normal. But as much as you can reduce your anxiety, as much as you can reduce your negative opinion, let go of all that and do the best that you can. It’s okay to mess up, just learn from the mess up. I have a passion for developmental math students, those that are still trying to find their way. You can always do developmental math, it just takes time. Don’t compare yourself to someone else. You need to work at your own pace. Take your time, get it out of your mind that you can’t do it. You can. Stop short-cutting, take the time to understand.
Interviewer: What do you see your students going on to do? Those that choose to move into careers in STEM?
McGary: Engineering, physical therapy, nursing, sciences. I had one student that did aerospace technology. Athletic training is something that seems to be up and coming for some students.
What’s your favorite thing about math?
It makes sense. You can always get a definitive answer. You cannot debate, 1+1=2 today, tomorrow, and forever more. There can be multiple ways to get to the answer – which I enjoy! But at the end of the day, there is a definite answer.
Interviewer: What else would you like me to share with girls in Iowa?
McGary: For students who want to do STEM, understand that Rome wasn’t built in a day. It’s okay to not know something. It’s okay to get an answer wrong. I always tell my students, show me your work, it’s okay to have it wrong but let’s see how you got there. As long as you are learning along the way, as long as the lightbulbs are going off along the way, that’s what matters the most.
Stop beating yourself up and get rid of the self-doubt. Encourage yourself and get around those people who will encourage you. I had to overcome my own doubts and stop listening to those who say I can’t. Show others that you can do it, and more importantly, show yourself. You can be the exception to the rule.