Fostering Inclusion through STEM

Talking Trends
4 min readMay 8, 2023

Cynthia Plouché in conversation with Mary Smith

Cynthia Plouché and Mary Smith

Education is one of the most important and effective ways of developing inclusion and empowerment. I’m a lifelong learner, and I actively pursue involvement opportunities concerning educational access and inclusion; as such, the Alzenia Project is committed to providing opportunities for positive impact and fulfillment that can fuel social change, especially in education. We are passionate about connecting people and ideas, and part of our mission is to support organizations that share the same values as we do. One such organization that has become one of our grantees is the Caroline and Ora Smith Foundation, which promotes, sponsors, supports, and trains Native American girls and women around the country in the STEM fields. We sat down with the foundation’s founder, Mary Smith, to explore the background of their organization and our partnership.

The Caroline and Ora Smith Foundation works to increase the number of Native American Women in the STEM fields by supporting young girls and women interested in STEM. Mary, who has a background in STEM, named the foundation after her mother and grandmother, respectively: “They’re both inspirations to me, two strong women who had amazing lives and always encouraged me, but who did not have as many opportunities as they should have due to the limited opportunities for women when they were younger.” Her grandmother, Ora Mae Pallone, grew up in a family of 16 children, but only 10 of them survived past the age of three due to the lack of adequate healthcare for Native Americans. Her grandmother’s life and experience motivated Mary to attend law school and accept an opportunity to become the chief executive of the Indian Health Service, a $6 billion national healthcare organization that provides healthcare to millions of Native Americans around the country.

Her experience at the Indian Health Service demonstrated just how important it is for more Native Americans to go into science fields, particularly health care: It is so important to have providers in the community who are part of the community and can build trust and promote preventative care, and I just want to create opportunities for Native American women and girls that they might not otherwise feel is available to them.”

The Caroline and Ora Smith Foundation gives Native American women and girls the opportunity to pursue STEM careers by fostering inclusion through STEM scholarship, which is perfectly aligned with the Alzenia Project’s goal to help young women of color achieve personal and professional growth. Our partnership will help so many girls develop their interests in STEM and have experiences they never would’ve had otherwise. “We’re really grateful to be partnered with the Alzenia Project,” Mary reflects, “and we love their mission of supporting organizations that help so many different groups of people.”

As we wrapped up our conversation, Mary recalled a story from a girl who the foundation has impacted. “Our summer camp went to Brookfield Zoo, where there’s a large sculpture of a gorilla cupping his arms. One little girl in our program climbed up into and laid back in the gorilla’s arms — I’ll never forget the look of pure joy on her face.”

We asked Mary about future plans for the foundation, and she says they have no shortage of ideas. “I’m hopeful that in the coming years, we’ll have widespread collaborations to help Native American women and girls all over the country.” Together, the Alzenia project and the Caroline and Ora Smith Foundation’s focus on developing educational access and fostering inclusion will help empower girls across America to reach their highest potential.

If you want to learn more about the Caroline and Ora Smith Foundation, visit their website or connect with Mary on LinkedIn.

To meet other Alzenia Project grantees, visit the Alzenia Project website, or to get involved, connect with Cynthia Plouché on LinkedIn.

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