When Cristina "Kina" McAllister was growing up, it was hard to find a science kit for girls that wasn't just a make-your-own make-up or soap kit. Meanwhile, the kits marketed to boys had all kinds of cool and complicated experiments just across the toy store aisle.
Years later, McAllister is working hard doing real-life science as a biologist at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, but she still thinks that the startlingly low number of women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathmathic (STEM) professions (just 24 percent of STEM jobs) leaves much to be desired -- just like the science kits marketed to girls.
That's why she decided to make her own: Stembox, a monthly-subscription box of real science-y goodness delivered right to your door. Think Birchbox meets Bill Nye.
"I decided that I wanted to make something for girls that would give them the best of both worlds; all the excitement of intense and sophisticated science, while giving them an experience they can share with the other girls they spend time with and look to for social queues," McAllister told MTV News.
"... I'm marketing StemBox for girls, but the boxes themselves are actually as gender neutral as I could make them. It's not up to me to define what it is girls like. So I think presenting them with pure science is the best way to go. Makeup and soap kits can only interest a fraction of our girls in science."
Along with the in-box experiments -- complete with real lab equipment and themes like owl pellet dissection or strawberry DNA extraction -- Stembox has also produced educational videos that go along with each month's topic.
"The lack of female role models in STEM also bothered me," McAllister said. "The videos are cool to me because growing up I don't think there was ever enough emphasis on the fact that you don't have to pursue a purely academic career to be in STEM. These videos are great about exposing women in science as approachable human beings who have all gone through very different experiences to get into STEM careers."
Because there aren't women in STEM fields that are considered celebrities for their work (like Bill Nye or Neil DeGrasse Tyson), McAllister said it's so important to combat the "subliminal messages going around that tell girls STEM belongs to boys." She said girls need a better representation of what real people in STEM look like -- and it's not just old guys in stuffy lab coats.
"I do wish someone had told me that academics and research are not the only things to do in STEM," McAllister said. "There are people whose job it is to talk to film makers about science facts, to create new products, to write great science fiction novels, or even to make fun videos about science, and none of these things require a PhD! You don't have to be the smartest kid in your class to have an awesome career in STEM."
"STEM is an intimidating field for girls because they often end up being the only girl in the room," McAllister said. "... If she has fond and happy memories in her childhood of science experiments she's done, she's likely to feel more secure in her future when the going gets tough just by thinking back to how happy STEM first made her. Those 'aha!' moments are so powerful, and I think we really underestimate them and instead freak out about kids' quantitative success via test scores."
To make these dreams a reality, McAllister is focusing hard on the Stembox Kickstarter campaign -- which has already funded 60 percent of their $15,000 goal. She's hoping the company can expand in the future and partner with some investors who are equally as passionate about nurturing girls' love of STEM and helping them keep that love for the rest of their lives.