Meet Inspiring Social Entrepreneur Karina Popovich

Image: Karina Popovich

Image: Karina Popovich

Meet Karina Popovich, an inspiring social entrepreneur and passionate advocate for women in STEM!

1. Tell us more about yourself and your personal brand.

The best way to describe myself is a young woman looking to make it big. While I call myself an entrepreneur or STEM activist, these are just titles. I am constantly working on projects and exploring new fields and areas that I have always wanted to enter. Lately, I have been venturing into public speaking and editorial writing. All of my explorations are centered around engineering, STEM education, women in tech, and leadership. To me, all of these 4 areas intertwine. For myself, I want to pursue a career in business and engineering. Having just entered the world of business and engineering, I can see how few women there are that are willing to pursue just a male-dominated career path. In my opinion, this is a problem centered around confidence and male intimidation which women are prone to experiencing. I can say from personal experience that that has been my problem and also a problem for a few of my female friends. Because of that, I am a huge proponent of female empowerment and confidence in everything I do. Beyond empowering other women, I believe that true confidence and empowerment starts with STEM education. While accessibility to STEM education is a luxury, the way STEM topics are taught and the teacher they are taught by can make a drastic difference in a young student's STEM experience. To put it simply, we need more women teaching STEM and we need to model a healthy dynamic between boys and girls in the tech world. All in all, my brand is about completely and holistically embodying my values of female empowerment in leadership and engineering. 

2. What issues do women/girls face in STEM fields? 

One of the biggest problems that women and girls face across all fields is a lack of confidence compared to that of men. The confidence gap is an even greater problem among women and girls who are entering STEM. While confidence is a huge issue for women and girls entering the engineering or STEM field, it is a deeply rooted problem among the majority of women in tech. From imposter syndrome to self-doubt, a lot of these psychological issues are the results of a long standing worldwide culture of gender inferiority that women are just beginning to be culturally and socially freed from. With this newfound freedom, we women have so little time to build up the confidence that men had years, decades even, to develop. I came to this realization through my experience being a student in a Robotics major and being a teacher of an elementary Robotics class. As a girl in an engineering class, the very fact that I can count the number of girls on my fingers puts a spotlight on me and every other girl. This makes asking for help incredibly intimidating, which unsurprisingly doesn't help our self-confidence. Being a teacher, I had days when my 10-year old female students came up to me saying, "I don't think I can handle the computation. I am just not as good as him." Elementary school is where issues of self-confidence arise, and in my experience, confidence is a huge part of the reason why women and girls drop out of STEM paths or careers.

3. Why is it important for women to be in leadership roles?

Lately, we have had a boost of women in leadership positions or women run businesses. All of the women-run businesses that I have encountered are changing the business world. Women are introducing humanitarian ideas to their businesses valuing the welfare and experience of their customer. This weekend I went to Soul Cycle, a female started fitness company, and to my amazement there was a jar of hair ties and tampons in every bathroom stall. For the men, there were razors, shaving cream, and additional amenities. Women are changing the business world to see customers as people rather than simply paying customers. Women bring a new set of values and ideals that were completely forgotten in the past, and now these values and ideals are revolutionizing business and industries. This proves just how much the world needs the input of Women through positions of leadership.

At the end of the day, the reasoning for why we need more women in leadership is simple. Nobody knows the customer better than the customer, and when men are allowed to make decisions for all of their customers, they aren't meeting the specific needs of all of their customers. With women and minorities in leadership these specific needs that men can't even think of are realized and met.

4. What is the mission behind your clothing line? How can we purchase it?

The mission behind Alpha is to empower women everyday by encouraging the message of STEM and leadership in a fashionable way. We want women and girls to confidently wear our pieces, feel strong, empowered, and ready to conquer the world with their computing, leadership, and engineering abilities. When creating Alpha it was very important for me that the girls and women wearing these pieces could feel like they have the tools and skills to change the world while being feminine and beautiful. Too often, we hear that successful women can't be sexy or beautiful, its one or the other, but Alpha is here to change that because there is nothing more empowering than looking amazing and doing amazing things. Alpha's first collection will be available for preorder on our website in late August. Stay tuned :) 

5. The mission behind our magazine is to "dare to defy" boundaries, how have you done that in your own life?

Image: Karina Popovich

Image: Karina Popovich

In all honesty, it feels like my entire life has been defying boundaries whether it be defying the culture of patriarchy within my home to defying the status quo of being "grade" oriented. Being the daughter of Ukrainian immigrants whenever I wanted something outlandish like a mansion or a boat or a fast car, my parents told me "when you marry a man, he will buy it for me". I didn't think much of it as a kid, but the older I grew the more I thought, why does a man have to buy it for me? why can't I buy it for myself? I was tired of being indirectly told that I would never be successful enough to afford something like that for myself. I was tired of being told I am inferior to men just because I am a woman. I knew I wasn't, I knew that if I set my mind to something, I could achieve it. After this realization, every time my parents mentioned being a housewife or depending on my husband, I fired back saying, "I don't need a man to buy me anything, because I can buy it for myself. I will succeed in my career and I will be able to provide for myself." This realization, this experience is what set me on my track of female empowerment. No girl should be raised to think that they are powerless and can only rely on their husband to provide for them.

The second way in which I have defied boundaries is through my education and not letting numbers define me. After realizing that I did have a valuable skillset, my professional and personal confidence skyrocketed. I didn’t need the validation of school and good grades to tell me I was on the path to success, I was allowing myself to grow professionally, explore challenges, fail, reflect, and, most importantly, learn. I was never book smart and the value of numbers in my school as well as the college process always frustrated me, because numbers can’t quantify the soft skills, network, and organizational skills I developed over the years. Beyond that I understood that grades and numbers wouldn’t take me as far as I want to go. They would get me into college and a comfy job at Goldman Sachs or somewhere else just as nice. But at what cost? For all the time and effort I would invest in getting that perfect grade on a project or studying for hours to get that high 90, I could be at an event meeting my next business partner or a future employer or, better yet, learning how to network, pitch, and communicate. With the time I focus on raising my grades from 95’s to 99’s I could be doing so much more. Which is why the smartest thing I ever did is completely throw myself into my passions. I took every opportunity to explore every interest I had from designing to business planning to engineering. In the process, I developed my own metric system, one not based on numbers, one that focuses on my growth and achievements. My value doesn’t come from my grades, it comes from the real-world skills that I took the time to develop over the years.