Center Stage: Kate Napier is a Driving Force Helping Girls and Women Succeed in STEM Fields

Center Stage: Kate Napier is a Driving Force Helping Girls and Women Succeed in STEM Fields

Fourth-year School of Physics major Katherine A. “Kate” Napier, who dreams to be the first person to land on Mars, just received a weighty endorsement from Porsche Cars North America—and it’s not for driving. Together with the National Center for Civil and Human Rights, the car company has named her a recipient of the 2016 Porsche Driving Force Award. Her recognition speaks highly of a smart, young, female scientist-to-be who envisions herself in an extraterrestrial future but is meanwhile solidly grounded in helping fellow females succeed on Earth.

Fourth-year School of Physics major Katherine A. “Kate” Napier dreams to be the first person to land on Mars. After she graduates in December 2017, she will pursue a Ph.D. and then apply to the astronaut corps.  

Meanwhile, she just received a weighty endorsement from Porsche Cars North America—and it’s not for driving. Together with the National Center for Civil and Human Rights, the car company has named her a recipient of the 2016 Porsche Driving Force Award. She is one of three recognized in the age 14-21 category.

The 2016 awards celebrate women whose community work helps advance women and girls in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields. Napier’s recognition speaks highly of a smart, young, female scientist-to-be who envisions herself in an extraterrestrial future but is meanwhile solidly grounded in helping fellow females succeed on Earth.

“I am often only one of a few female students in physics classes,” Napier says. “It’s important to have female role models in the very male dominated field of physics.”

For this reason, Napier has consistently sought female mentors. In high school, she asked a female astrophysicist to advise her on a science fair project. During her second year in Tech, she took the initiative to join the group of School of Physics Professor Deirdre Shoemaker, the director of the Center for Relative Astrophysics, as a research assistant. Thus she became part of the Georgia Tech team that helped discover gravitational waves.  When she worked at NASA sites during summers, she performed research under the direction of female astrophysicists.

“I want to help other women and girls succeed in physics and other STEM fields,” Napier says. To that end she helped organize the Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics held at Tech in 2016. And she serves as president of Tech’s Society of Women in Physics, which has a mentoring program for female physics majors.

Napier advocates for women and girls in STEM in other ways. “I never hesitate to speak up when a professor fails to recognize the women in class or women’s contributions to physics and astronomy,” she says. When she helps with public nights at the Tech observatory, she says, she pays special attention to the girls in the audience. “It is important to counteract the bias of attention toward boys often found in the classroom and society,” she says. “Women and girls can succeed in STEM if they are given the same opportunities as men and boys.”  

Napier’s advocacy extends to One Voice Atlanta, a Tech student group that works to end the sexual slavery and exploitation of children in Atlanta and to educate Tech students about the sex-slave industry. At Napier’s initiative, One Voice Atlanta established an after-school program that enables at-risk students to experience STEM activities.  “Many of these students have never had a family member attend college,” Napier says.  “It is important to keep students, especially girls, interested in STEM subjects and for girls to see themselves as future scientists.”

In recognition of her community work, Napier received a video platform from which to spread her message of the importance of encouraging women and girls in STEM.

“No Porsche,” she jokes. But that’s okay, because what she really wants is a spaceship to Mars.

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