Hello August! I’m so excited to share with you all the fifth installment of the Empowering Women of Oklahoma series. Over the past year, I’ve met so many incredible women across the state who have built their own businesses, started their own political campaigns, established non-profits for good causes & so much more. What really grabbed my attention was the inspiring stories behind these women. Being a photographer, I love capturing images- but what I really love most is telling the story behind the people within them. When I first started out in the world of photography, I originally was a photojournalist. I went out on assignments & captured real-life stories of people, places & things. Some of my favorite photographs are the ones that tell a story. I’m here to bring you those stories in a much more compelling way.
Throughout the year, I will be featuring empowering women of Oklahoma & sharing their stories with you all. These women are business owners, entrepreneurs, technologists, professors, scientists & more. We have so many incredible women doing great things in our state, so why not give them a platform to share what they're passionate about?
I’m so thrilled to have Anita as a part of this series. We met last year through Oklahoma Women in Technology & I instantly felt connected with her. She is incredibly kind, thoughtful, strong, smart & creative. We both share a love for STEM & when I heard her backstory, I knew that it had to be shared with the world. Without further ado, I present to you: Miss Anita Ly!
Tell us about yourself & what inspired you to pursue a career in STEM?
I was born in Minnesota and by the age of 4, I moved to the Bay Area in California. I like to joke that life comes full circle since I’m now back in the Midwest. Growing up I wanted to be a Physician, specifically a pediatrician. I love kids and I love helping people so in my 10 year old mind, that was my career path. During my high school years, I was fortunate enough to have amazing chemistry and biology teachers who encouraged me to join the Science Olympiad Competition where I came in 2nd place statewide. This experience motivated me to pursue my studies in Biochemistry in undergrad as well as led me to move to Oklahoma. After my undergraduate, I worked for 2 years at AbbVie Biotherapeutics as a scientist and that furthered my passion for being in the Pharmaceutical Industry. While growing in my career, I realized that in order to achieve my goal of being a CEO or starting my own company, I needed additional education. This led me to Oklahoma to initially pursue a PhD in Biochemistry. Circumstances changed and through my job with the Oklahoma Catalyst Programs, I realized that although my passion for science was apparent, I also thrived in a business setting and adjusted my career path.
How did you find yourself in your current role?
Currently, I work with the Catalyst Programs as a conference coordinator for the Oklahoma Women Impacting STEM and Entrepreneurship Conference. It’s a conference that highlights the amazing women in Oklahoma across the STEM and also entrepreneurship fields. I joined the Catalyst Programs January 2018 and never anticipated being an event planner. It has been a journey into learning about Oklahoma and all the wonderful women here, but also it’s a never ending learning experience for me. Working with small businesses and hearing the struggles and success stories, I wanted to expand my knowledge of the business world. After lots of contemplation, I felt that in order to make myself more marketable for the career path I want to pursue, I opted to switch to a Masters degree in Biochemistry and a MBA. This gives me a well-rounded background.
How do you maintain a health work/life balance?
In my free time, I love testing out new recipes in my tiny kitchen. Whether it is foods from all cultures or baking after binging the latest Great British Bake-off season, I find it keeps me mentally balanced. When I’m not busy planning a conference, studying, I am also a furmom to my beautiful rescue Caden and can be found running after him at the dog park. Mental health is something that I advocate for, and one of the ways I maintain that healthy work/life are my friends. We all encourage each other to take mental breaks even if it means going kayaking for an hour, or going on a doggy play date. Whatever the activity is, we keep each other in check and it’s always an extra motivation to spend time with friends.
What kind of advice would you give to other women looking to pursue a career in STEM?
I think I have been extremely lucky over the course of my career. I’ve received a lot of opportunities and because of my desire to take on challenges I’ve jumped on those opportunities regardless of how scary it felt. I had the best mentors of the year who supported me as a women in STEM, and I know that doesn’t reflect every woman’s’ experience. There are moments when I attended a networking or conference event in which I do feel that as a woman, some of the men belittle my voice until it is repeated by a male voice. One of the ways I’ve learned to develop my self confidence in a conference setting is dressing to feel powerful. Whether that means wearing my favorite studded heels or a swipe of my favorite red lipstick, feeling powerful translated as confidence, and confidence meant suddenly people turned to listen to what you had to say. That’s probably my biggest advice for young girls. Whatever makes you feel the most powerful, do it, and it’ll translate as confidence, and now you’ve got a step in the door.