When Brianna Simental talks about her work in STEM, she passes over the usually related difficulties of gender inequality, bias and stereotypes—mostly because she by-passed those negative experiences during her time at the San Gabriel Mission all-girls Catholic high school.

“I’ve never felt out of place being a woman in STEM,” Simental says over the phone as she heads to a lab class at Mount Saint Mary’s University where she is a junior. She adds, “Luckily for me I went to Mission.”

Simental says of her high school, “There was a lot of women’s empowerment.” She adds that her favorite STEM teacher, Dr. Marielle Sallo, made science “so exciting.” At Mission, she realized that a career in STEM was in her future. “My sophomore year when I took biology, I completely fell in love,” she says.

She credits Mission’s International Baccalaureate (IB) program for pushing her limits. “I took IB Bio and even though it was a harder course, I loved being challenged, and I loved discovering new things. So that’s how I knew that science was for me.”

Today Simental has her sights set on a career in health care policy with a focus on health care access and nutrition—concerns that she saw starkly displayed on her recent trip to Peru as part of the Mount’s Global Women in STEM and Policy (GWSP) program. Additionally, given her love of travel, she hopes to spend time with the Peace Corp.

Until graduation, she’ll be kept busy doing what she loves most: conducting cancer research in impoverished international communities, testing for long hours in the lab and presenting scientific findings at national science conferences.

Although Simental decided to surround herself with (in her words) “amazing strong women in STEM” at the Mount, which is an all-women’s school, she is confident that her experience of support and encouragement has set her up for success in the workforce—no matter what gender ratio divide she may find in the STEM fields.

“I’ve never been put down so my confidence is up,” she explains. “I know my abilities, and I’m strong in my knowledge. So, I don’t feel that I would be put down.”

She credits Mission for drawing her out of herself and allowing her to explore her interests. “I definitely think it molded me to be the person that I am today,” she says.

Coming in as a freshman at Mission, I was really shy. I was really quiet. The environment at Mission is super fun and they let you be your individual self and explore what you want.

Brianna Simental

San Gabriel Mission all-girls Catholic high school

Simental notes that her mom also played a large role in her success. “My mom always told me to take every opportunity I had.” In high school, following mom’s advice meant being on student government, the marketing team and in the tennis and musical theatre clubs.

At the Mount, her mom’s good advice got her into the prestigious GWSP cohort. Simental had her doubts about getting in—the program only accepted 12 students. But she says, “You never know what is going to happen.”

She was thrilled to be accepted. A year and a half into her two-year GWSP program, she says, “I always tell young girls: Take every opportunity you have because you never know.”