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Guzalkhon – Rejecting Social Norms in STEM

Guzalkhon, TechGirls 2022, Uzbekistan

I used to grossly misinterpret the life of my childhood idol, Marie Curie. She seemed to be a model woman who self-sacrificially contributed to her husband’s scientific success. Knowing what I know today, I try not to judge my past self too harshly. The two options available to my gender were to either marry the next Al-Khwarizmi or give birth to the next Al-Khwarizmi.   

As an aspiring female scientist, I never expected to be an equal partner and this all changed when I received a scholarship to attend the TechGirls Program, held by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. There, I joined a cohort of young women from 36 countries and territories for a life-changing experience of studying STEM. A Nigerian girl who had to dress up as a boy to access the local Computer Club, a student from Gaza who took an initiative to raise awareness of the importance of mental health— these were just a few young women who persisted despite discrimination, prejudice, and even local conflict. These inspiring girls, who seemed to face challenges of staggering magnitude, rejected the prospect of taking up secondary roles

Operating in a diverse environment made me conscious of the forces that have determined my self-perception and informed my social interactions. I cannot help but wonder how many local girls have been locked in similar societal cages. 

For me, the everlasting part of the TechGirls program was the visit to NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. Yes, that famous NASA I always see in the newspaper headlines. This day made me more than sure that I really want to be and am capable of being an aerospace engineer. I finally understood what I wanted to have as my lifelong passion and mission. And, of course, seeing how the James Webb Telescope, which is on my Instagram page every day, was built and tested gets the ‘Event of the Year’ award. It was a truly inspirational, mind-blowing and perspective-shifting experience!

Now, I am not only a better engineer through the Automating Systems Using Microprocessors (ASUM) classes at Virginia Tech, but I am truly a global citizen. I know the community of future and present STEM leaders, incredible professors, and energy of this all, will stay with me forever! 

Guzalkhon smiling with shrubs behind her
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