Meet Anisa Lateef: A STEM Girl with a flair for the Arts

Anisa Lateef is a sophomore here at TCNJ, studying Biomedical Engineering. When she’s not hitting the books, she spends her time reading and writing poetry, taking artsy pictures of her friends, having deep conversations, hanging around cats, experimenting with fashion and accessories, spending time with family, and in her own words “photosynthesizing in any patch of sunlight” she can find. Needless to say, Anisa is one of the most interesting people I’ve met at TCNJ.

In this day and age, where women are domineering many reputable fields, there are still very few women scientists and engineers. Many researches have looked into this issue and attributed stereotypes and gender bias to be the block to women’s progress in STEM fields. Given that Anisa is a woman in STEM, I had the chance to ask her some questions about her major and future aspirations. 

Why did you choose a major in STEM?

In all honesty, I wanted to have a technical degree under my belt so that people take me seriously when I have something to say. As a woman and a person of color (already a minority) who already loves to express herself through art and poetry, I want to be able to communicate across the language of STEM to reach more people across different domains. 

 

What do you like most about your major?

I appreciate the real-life healthcare aspect of biomedical engineering. This field of study is designed for understanding and solving problems that affect the literal quality of life for all kinds of people. I want to study a subject that I know would allow for me to be able to get out and immediately work towards alleviating pain and stress. 

 

What does being a woman in STEM mean to you?

Taking up my space and responsibilities to make this world a better place through my education, skills, and opportunities.

 

Do you think stereotype threat serves as a barrier for women trying to pursue STEM fields? Have you had experience with it?

The barrier exists, but it’s only an obstacle if you let it be one. I have had many moments over my academic career where I’ve scanned the room and accepted that I’m surrounded by a pool of testosterone. There was even one time I was talking to one of my caucasian, male classmates about being worried about an upcoming quiz and he responds with something along the lines of, “Why are you worried? You’re a woman and person of color in STEM. People want you to succeed. It’s not a great time to be a white guy in STEM at the moment.” I don’t know if he thought the professor was going to read my name on my quiz during grading and decide, “Oh, Anisa is a woman and person of color? Automatic passing grade for her!”.

Another thing is that I think as a woman in a male dominated environment, I become a little hyper aware of when I am not making my voice heard during group projects or discussions. This is mainly because I don’t want to add/contribute to the workplace stereotype of men constantly taking over projects while women sit idly on the side. I think that not just as a woman but anyone pursuing anything in life, it’s important that we don’t compromise who we are for the sake of our environment.

 

What are your future career goals?

My dream is that with a technical background in biomedical studies in combination with my infatuation for creative writing, I can work thoughtfully and creatively into becoming the CEO of my own holistic healing organization. I want to encourage self care and confidence through activities that bring people joy and peace, the same way poetry does for me. The mind and spirit are such powerful entities that have so much influence on our overall wellbeing and health. My philosophy will emphasize the inner healing mechanisms and mental health in conjunction with medicinal and technological advances. The goal is to heal from the inside to the outside, addressing troubled areas both internally and externally because they all work in conjunction in every daily process we experience. I also daydream of being an active poet writing in her sunlit, glittery and floral home-office, bordering a Parisian inspired garden oozing with fresh mint.

 

What is a favorite memory you’ve made at TCNJ so far?

Funival 2019 for sure! It was a great excuse for everyone to reunite as a bigger group of friends and just hang out on campus without stressing about anything else. We got to let the spinning rides, screaming, and deep fried snacks remind us to have fun and to make the memories we’ll remember the most from our college experience.

 

How do you manage a heavy course load?

I know it’s way too easy to unbalance your life into favoring your classes over your own needs, especially when you feel like you don’t have enough time for everything, trust me. Honestly, the community at TCNJ plays a big role in keeping me grounded over the crammed semesters. I am so blessed for the people in life and for the ability to have them be more than bodies I pass in lecture twice a week. My friends and I keep each other afloat with weekly dance parties, exercise, and debriefs/self care check-ins with each other. 

Keeping that in mind, it’s also really important to do things you want for yourself. People will have a million and one excuses for why they have to study every waking hour of the day, so if you want to hear the Trentones Winter Acapella concert during reading week, just do it. You’re allowed to fulfill your wants and needs without feeling guilty. You can be yourself without attaching your major to your hip 24/7. This is something I’m really trying to prioritize in my life a lot more this semester.

 

With such a busy schedule, do you get the time to partake in extracurriculars and study abroad programs?

No doubt, being an engineering student does eat up a lot of my time but it also forces me to prioritize the things I want to do in a day and in turn, encourage me to manage my time effectively to make sure it all can happen. I’m learning the importance of scheduling out my days and week to avoid spontaneously combusting every morning.

On campus, the main groups I am a part of are the professional engineering fraternity Theta Tau, The Lion’s Eye literary magazine as a contributing poet, and the Muslim Students Association (MSA). I’m also considering trying to become a tutor at the tutoring center.

This past winter break, I had the indescribable opportunity to participate in TCNJ’s faculty led study abroad program in India led by the amazing Dr. Jaksch and Dr. Hutton. The Women and Gender Studies course isn’t directly related to the BME curriculum but is still so relevant to being a woke and informed citizen of the world, which is one of the most important roles we play as people. Although I’m not sure if I would have been able to take the same class during the crammed spring or fall semester, taking a course you’re interested in during the winter or summer term is a great option available. 

 

What advice do you have for other girls thinking about pursuing STEM fields?

Dream, and then follow that dream wholeheartedly. If that dream brings you to STEM, grab onto the reins and be ready for a fun time. Also, as cliche as it sounds (and cliches really bother me as a writer) remember that as long as there is a will there's a way. So, as long as you have reason/motivation anchoring you to something, you will always have a push to keep moving forward to accomplish anything and everything.

And stop comparing your journey to her journey or his journey. Focus on yourself and your path. You’re allowed to be a little selfish. 

 

Do you think STEM and humanities majors should go hand in hand in today’s world?

Absolutely, a hundred times yes. What I have noticed as a STEM major with a huge spot in my heart for humanities is that the two ends of the spectrum are way more dynamic, creative and unique together. Like anything, there is so much strength in differences because in the end, we are all the same and yet can think in such colorfully vibrant and contrasting ways. Working together with our differences is what builds a strength like no other.

 

Since you’re also a writer, would you like to share any of your literary pieces?

 

Miss Dior,

mesmerized by the musical moments

laced between choreo & coral colorings

I sit & stare at

 

Natalie Portman in her montage for Miss Dior

eau de parfum​

the one infused with

Sia’s “Chandelier” 

backgrounding a spectra of

moods of a modern woman:

the raw & sweet

the stubborn & angry

lingering lust and desire

of an innocence forgotten

 

speedy pink cars

desert donut swirls 

& cannonballs

in chiffony dresses

 

“And you” as she stares into your millennial pink soul

with a vigor and grace that only 

a queen among men can control

 

“What would you do for love?”

because what your nose can’t smell through a screen

your imagination can concoct beyond the camera:

 

so live 

as if you’re selling a scent through pixels

with an illusion of life:

a fantasy

 

an aroma 

rich with money bags & diamond beaches

pink and soft 

like Himalayan smoke.