Yael Jekogian, who has paved the road for equality for women and girls in science through her work and her mentorship, is a shining star close to the hearts of the Girls in Science 4 SDGs team. Growing up with an interest in science and mathematics, Jekogian studied civil engineering at Drexel University. After college, she began working in the field of hazardous waste management, and though she enjoyed her job, she soon noticed the lack of women in the industry and decided she needed to take action. She initially pursued work with a women’s foundation in addition to her job in waste management, eventually shifting her entire career focus to working at a nonprofit that helped women. Four years ago, Jekogian discovered WINGS World Quest, the nonprofit where she currently works as the managing director.
Jekogian describes WINGS as an organization that takes a three pronged approach to advancing women in science and exploration across the globe. WINGS gives unrestricted awards to women pursuing noteworthy work in the field sciences, shares the work of women in science through reports and through the media, and provides a platform for women to collaborate and learn from each other. Jekogian noted the importance of unrestricted awards, stating that women have used their awards “for whatever is most pressing in their lives: new equipment, project funding, or even child care or to fund a lawsuit.” WINGS currently supports 120 women, but Jekogian herself supports so many more.
The mother of two teenage girls, the work Jekogian does is “omnipresent” at home and with her daughters. The family has centered their vacations around exploring and giving back to communities around the world through science, and her daughters have always shown interest in her work and in the importance of aiding women. In fact, it is Jekogian’s daughter, Rebecca, who led Jekogian to the Girls in Science 4 SDGs team. After reaching out to women in science across the world that she admired, Rebecca, at age 11, was invited to speak at the United Nations Headquarters for the 1st International Day of Women and Girls in Science. Eventually, Jekogian joined the Girls in Science 4 SDGs group as a mentor, claiming it was “a natural fit,” and that she enjoys it because “I didn’t have and wasn’t taught to seek out women role models in my field.”
Though Jekogian herself is a role model for many, she also looks up to other women, including Princess Dr. Nisreen El-Hashemite. “One thing I see in her that really excites me is how she’s so trusting, she has high standards but the trust the puts in the girls that are involved [in the platform] really empowers them and the more we can empower people by trusting them, the better they perform.” Jekogian is also energized by Hillary Clinton’s courage and perseverance throughout her run for president and the fact that she has inspired so many other women to run for president.
Jekogian recognizes the importance of culture and arts, stating that if she had to create an 18th SDG, she would pick “culture and arts for all.” “I would make the symbol purple,” she remarked, “because purple is a mix of red and blue, the colors of the two major political parties in the United States. With everything being so divided, culture and arts is a way for us to share ideals and better understand those who think differently from us.” Jekogian, who loves theater and serves on the board of the Transport Group Theater Company, believes that art “promotes creativity and creative thinking, which helps us in everything we do, specifically in designing things.”
Jekogian is a shining star and an inspiration for the Girls in Science 4 SDGs team, who she believes inspire her as well. “I have been so enlightened by the Girls in Science 4 SDGs, seeing you all from different parts of the world–different time zones, different cultures–coming together and collaborating, learning together and sharing knowledge, this is nothing that I would have ever dreamed of or considered when I was your age.” Jekogian has had a deep impact in shaping the future for girls and women in science, and in part because of her, the Girls in Science 4 SDGs platform is not a dream but a reality.