SISTERS IN STEM
Mary Maliakal Kuriakose ’05, Leesha Maliakal ’10, Leona Maliakal ’12 and Linette Maliakal ’16 For the past decade, the Maliakal sisters have maintained a strong presence in the halls of Regina Dominican. As the youngest sister Linette ’16 anticipates her upcoming graduation, she watches as her older siblings Mary ’05, Leona ’12 and Leesha ’10 return as alumnae mentors to talk to her classmates about the shared Maliakal family interest in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics). Linette plans to follow the example set by her sisters and work to break the gender barriers that persist within STEM industries. She feels ready for this challenge due to her personal and academic development in the supportive, single-gender environment at Regina Dominican. During an interview with all four sisters, Linette reflected, “Before I came to Regina, I lacked self-confidence. In grade school, I rarely raised my hand. Regina Dominican helped me boost how I feel about myself.” Eldest sister Mary, who received a master’s degree in biomedical engineering from University of Illinois at Chicago in May, confirmed Linette’s conclusion. “While in graduate school for biomedical engineering, I remember the male-to-female ratios of my classes being largely skewed. In this day and age, you look at that and say, ‘Wow, really?! It’s still like this in this field?’ Being educated in a single-gender environment empowered me at an early age and prepared me for this situation. Rather than thinking, ‘I’m the only woman in a
classroom full of men. Should I even be here?’ I think, ‘I’m here because I want to blaze my own path. I want to go forward and work hard to prove that I’m just as worthy as the male students. I don’t want people to judge me based on my sex. I want people to judge me based on my ability.’” Mary and Leona shared this perspective with students last year as mentors. During Career Day, Mary spoke of her work with the Society of Women Engineers and helped break down the multitude of career options available within the field of engineering. Leona, who is entering her fourth year at Northwestern University studying engineering, visited pre-calculus classes to work with students on their prosthetic limb projects. After these experiences, both Mary and Leona concurred that returning to Regina is a meaningful experience for all involved, as it allows their educational cycle to come full circle. It also introduces them as tangible role models for students interested in STEM. The Maliakals are just a few members of a large network of alumnae, who are available to students for guidance and professional development. The second oldest sister Leesha recently graduated with a computer science degree from Northwestern, where she is currently working in a research group focused on crowdsourcing. Leesha believes the connections she made at Regina Dominican have enhanced her personal and professional life. “The friends that you
make at Regina are really lifelong friends, who are there to support you. It doesn’t feel like you’re just reaching out to members of the same professional network, but family, because that’s what we are: family.” The strength of the school community was particularly important to the Maliakal sisters during a period of financial hardship for their family, when Leona and Leesha were both in high school. There was a growing concern that the sisters might need to transfer to public school to cut costs. But, through the financial support of the Regina Dominican community, the sisters were able to complete their education at Regina Dominican. The family attributes the subsequent success of the sisters as a result. The Regina Dominican community remains excited about the futures of the Maliakal sisters as they continue to forge new ground for women in the STEM fields, creating more inlets for female students to become the engineers and computer scientists of tomorrow.
REGINA FUN FACT: The school’s first uniform consisted of a brown jacket, white blouse and beige tweed skirt.
Veritas is the magazine of Regina Dominican High School in Wilmette, IL. Visit rdhs.org.