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Deconstructing Stereotypes and Introducing More Diversity in the Classroom

Sabiha Saklayen presents at SPIE Women in Optics

"I'm inspired because all of you are here," said Nabiha Saklayen, CEO and Co-Founder of Cellino Biotech, Inc., in her opening remarks at the SPIE Women in Optics Diversity and Inclusion program on Monday. "SPIE is doing so much to keep you here and keep you going."

The first slide in Saklayen's presentation, "Deconstructing Stereotypes and Introducing More Diversity in the Classroom," was an image of physicist Sheldon Cooper from the television show, "The Big Bang Theory." She noted that "this is what people think a physicist should look like." This is a problem, because people, especially kids who might be interested in science, need to appreciate that people have different backgrounds - not everyone will fit the same mold. Just because they don't "look like Sheldon," doesn't mean they can't succeed in STEM.

To address this subject, Saklayen created a blog called, "I don't look like a physicist." Here, she writes, "I've come to realize that meeting people for the first time is an opportunity to completely shatter their preexisting worldview."

Saklayen is especially interested in helping young students change their ideas of "what is a scientist," and shattering stereotypes before they take hold. She is also the director of "I am a Scientist," a collaboration between artists, educators, and researchers. The program includes stories of real-world scientist from various backgrounds who describe their current, exciting projects as well as what they do outside of work, such as singing, playing an instrument, or salsa dancing. The program also offers practical tools to help answer questions about STEM and how to become a scientist.

In conclusion, Saklayen encouraged the audience to join in the effort to educate and encourage young students in STEM with the statement, "Let's get together and create wonder."