Aisha Martin was born in the United States but was taken by her parents to Germany and lived the first 17 or 18 years of her life abroad. She immigrated to the United States which was essentially her country of birth but felt like an immigrant here.
As a certified Girls Empowerment Coach and STEMinist, her vision is to close the “gender gap to innovation” by engaging girls from under served and historically underrepresented communities through early exposure to STEM education and specialized mentoring. Aisha’s mantra is
“girls can’t be what they don’t see!”
This was the inspiration behind Fems4STEM™ which she founded in 2015 and The STEMinist Brand™ founded in 2020.
Aisha recently launched her new website . Check it out!
Paula: [00:00:00] Welcome to Chatting With the Experts. This is a podcast with immigrant women from Nigeria, from Ghana, from the Caribbean and other parts of Africa. And these days in other parts of the world who have relocated or immigrated or ended up living in the United Kingdom and the United States. Here, we talk about the struggles and highlights and the triumphs and things that we have experienced while living in the UK and the US. And we also share resources and experiences that our fellow immigrant sisters can benefit from. My guest today is extra special. Her name is Aisha Martin, and she’s extra special because her journey’s a little different.
[00:00:55] Aisha was born in the United States but was taken by her parents to Germany and lived the first 17 or 18 years of her life abroad and then immigrated to the United States which was essentially her country of birth and felt like an immigrant here. So, we’re going to talk about that. But before I do that, I want you, my listeners to hear about this magnificent woman Aisha Martin, before I ask her to tell you all about herself, I’m going to read her bio.
Aisha Martin is a nurturer by nature. She is cultured, she’s creative. She’s a powerhouse with a youthful spirit and a personable demeanor.
[00:01:27] I am so impressed. Aisha Martin is a nurturer by nature. She is cultured, she’s creative. She’s a powerhouse with a youthful spirit and a personable demeanor. She also has a very youthful look. I thought she was like 20. She’s laughing at that. As I said, she was raised and educated primarily in Europe.
[00:01:53] And she has combined her artistic gifts, a global travel and her experience as a seasoned biologist with her heart for inspiring girls to be authentic, confident STEM leaders. Aisha’s STEM journey spans almost a decade and began at the centers for disease control in Atlanta, Georgia as a molecular biologist.
[00:02:18] She’s a certified girls empowerment coach. And a STEMinist, first time I heard that word, but I love it. Her vision is to close the gender gap to innovation, and she does this by engaging girls from underserved and historically underrepresented communities through early exposure to STEM education, as well as specialized mentoring.
[00:02:44] Aisha’s mantra is ” Girls can’t be what they don’t see” and that’s the inspiration before Fem or STEM, which he founded in 2015 with the STEMinist brand. The STEMinist brand was founded in 2020. Aisha Martin. welcome to Chatting with The Experts, I can’t read more. …this will go on forever. You are one accomplished woman
[00:03:12] Aisha: [00:03:12] Thank you so much.
[00:03:13] I’m so happy to be here and speaking with you and your audience.
Paula: [00:03:17] It’s a pleasure. So, you talked about your formal education and you did tell me earlier on… That’s why I knew that you were born here and almost immediately taken to Germany. And so your primary education was not in the United States.
Aisha: [00:03:32] That’s correct. So, I was actually born in Pennsylvania here in the United States.
[00:03:38] However, I’d say maybe about somewhere between two weeks to one years old. I have to check with my mom about that. We moved to Germany. So that is where my primary education began, in another country. Learning from Germans because the woman who used to take care of me while my parents worked was German.
[00:04:00] So I did not come to the United States until I was 17 years old. So, I truly do feel like a foreigner in my land of birth
Paula: [00:04:10] Aisha is such an impressive young woman. And as you heard me mention, even though she was born in the United States very early in life, she moved to Germany, I have read this fantastic bio of hers, but I think now it’s time for Aisha to talk with you guys all about herself
Aisha: [00:04:27] As a young child, after birth in the United States and Pennsylvania, my family and I moved to Europe. So, we landed in Germany and that is where my primary education began with a German caretaker and obviously all of the people around me. So, I grew up around people from Africa, people from India, Asia, many different places in the world.
[00:04:53] So that is what I’m used to, what I’m accustomed to. So, coming to the United States at 17 was. I would say a bit of a culture shock, but it was more than that. It was a huge culture shock for me. I had to learn things that people expected me to know because I was born here. But as I quickly told them, that’s just on paper.
[00:05:18] I am more European than anything because that is where I spent the majority of my life. And what I learned as far as American culture was through the television. Which is why I initially wanted to come to the United States and attend school high school specifically because of everything that I saw on television.
Paula: [00:05:39] And, that’s the impression, every one of us. If you spent most of your life abroad, which I did you learn about America from the TV shows not really from geography or history, it’s like what’s on TV. And so that even though your parents were American, you still were getting all your impression about what America and American life was like from looking at TV shows, correct?
Aisha: [00:06:04] TV shows and every year for about 30 days, we will come to United States for vacation and then come back.
[00:06:12] That’s only 30 days out of the year, unless there was a special occasion where we went twice. So, between a combination of television shows and vacations, this was my impression. Now, of course I have family in the United States, but their experience was totally different than my experience growing up, abroad. Two totally different environments.
[00:06:34] And so I spelled things differently. There are certain jokes I don’t necessarily get, because I didn’t grow up here, and there are certain things that people don’t understand about my life because they were not raised abroad. So, it’s been a learning process throughout all these years. I’m now 43.
[00:06:51] So of course now I’ve been acclimated to the culture, but when I first moved here, it was a shock. It was a total shock to me.
Paula: [00:06:58] I wish our audience could see you say you’re 43. My eyes opened. You don’t look 43 Are you serious?
Aisha: [00:07:09] Wow. March 30th. I’ll be 44. Yeah.
Paula: [00:07:13] Wow. Wow. Well, there’s something you mentioned just now that a lot of your impressions on the United States were gotten through TV shows. Like?
Aisha: [00:07:25] TV shows like ” A different World”
[00:07:28] “ The Cosby Show, ” Saved By the Bell “ and “ Beverly Hills 90210”. Those are some of the ones that I loved to watch.
Paula: [00:07:38] And so after watching all of that, you said to your parents, “okay, I need to go enjoy this life that I’m seeing on screen”.
Aisha: [00:07:44] Absolutely. I said, “ You are ruining my life here in Europe.
[00:07:47] This is terrible. Look at all the things they’re doing. They’re driving cars and I’m riding the transit here in Germany and in Belgium, this is terrible. How dare you? They have 711, they have Walmart. All of these different things”. I said, “You’re running my life. They have 24-hour access to shopping and the mall”.
[00:08:10] And in my mind, I wasn’t thinking about here I am right here, where there are two of the fashion capitals of the world. You have Paris, you have Milan, but here I’m thinking about shopping in New York or shopping, in DC or things like that, or going to the beach in Florida. And not recognizing that I was surrounded by beautiful culture, beautiful places, because I took it for granted because I’ve been there at that point all my life.
[00:08:38] So that’s what I knew. But when you only have the television as a point of reference or 30 days of vacation, then that’s what you believe is to be better. It’s always greener on the other side
Paula: [00:08:50] It is always greener on the other side. So, you came here at 17. So, did you come to New York where you wanted to be or DC?
Aisha: [00:08:59] I originally wanted to be in Atlanta, Georgia where I am now because I had family here and I’ve always been told that it was the black Mecca, so I wanted to be there, but my parents consented and allows me to come to Hampton, Virginia, and live with my mom’s sister, whose daughter was my age. Which was fine with me.
[00:09:21] We’re very close. And that’s where I ended up coming – to Hampton, Virginia.
Paula: [00:09:25] And so you got to come, you were with your cousin and then you went to school. Tell us about school now you’re foreign. You’re American, but you’re foreign.
Aisha: [00:09:35] Yes. In Europe, it’s not unusual for someone who’s a teenager to possibly have a glass of wine with their parents, that dinner, not a big deal.
[00:09:44] I’m not saying that was necessarily the case for me. But I grew up seeing that. So, it wasn’t a shock. So, to hear students in the United States being excited to turn 21, because that’s drinking age was foreign to me. Haven’t you been doing this at 16, 17? But for them, that was exciting. And then to have to come to America, be independent, taking the train around my city in Europe to having to now ask for rides everywhere I go, that was hard for me.
[00:10:17] Because I was given a certain independence living abroad. Now another thing was travel. I’m used to traveling everywhere. It’s no big deal in Europe to go from one country to the next one town to the next. Whereas the students that I came in contact with my senior year of high school here in the United States, some of them while living in Virginia had never been to DC, never been to North Carolina or never even been to another part of Virginia.
[00:10:47] So for me to come and say, at that time you were living in Belgium to say, Oh, I just moved here from Belgium. Some of them were embarrassed and couldn’t admit that they had no idea where that was. So, they would say things like, “Oh, I’ve been there, that’s a North Carolina”. So inside I’m laughing, but I didn’t want them to really feel bad.
[00:11:04] So I said, yeah, that’s exactly where it is. It’s Belgium, North Carolina. You’re right. So, things like that were so shocking to me. That students, my age, had not traveled extensively. Like I had, they weren’t accustomed to being friends with people from other countries and backgrounds. They were very clique-ish here.
[00:11:27] So if they saw me talking to someone of another race, ethnicity, it was a shock, like, why are you talking to them? This group of people should always talk to each other and sit together at lunch. And this is just how it’s done for me. It wasn’t like that. Because my friends and I, we were like United nations.
[00:11:47] So I’m used to being around all kinds of people, eating all kinds of food. That’s how I know what I like and what I don’t like. And I feel that sometimes you tend to be closed minded or your world is actually smaller because you’re limiting yourself, which has been limiting your thinking. So, I’m grateful to my parents for the experience being that I grew up abroad around so many different people going to the international school while we were talking in English and we spoke English at the school, all of us came from different countries, different places.
[00:12:17] And so my friends and I were like the United nations. So having grown up in that atmosphere to then come to the United States, where there are a lot of cliques based on race, based on ethnicity, it was hard for me to adjust at first. Because that’s not something I was used to, I was used to being around different people, eating different foods.
[00:12:38] Now one of my best friends was from Holland and I am a lover of cheese. So, I was ecstatic to spend the night at her house and see a board full of cheeses, different types of cheeses for dinner. I said, this is the best dinner ever. I can just eat cheese, so different things like that, being exposed.
[00:12:58] To even different religions. It helped me understand people better. And these are things that I’m grateful for – that children my age, when I came to the United States were not exposed to.
Paula: [00:13:10] I see that. I’m just trying to picture you. So, you come here you’re 17. So, you’re most likely in either 10th or 11th grade, right?
Aisha: [00:13:17] So it’s 17. Just turned 17. So, I was entering into my 12th grade year. So up until that point, I had been going to school abroad. So, I was leaving everything that I knew all of my friends who were preparing for graduation that next school year to enter into a new school where the only person that I knew was my cousin.
[00:13:38] So it was very difficult for me. Not to mention that honestly, our school abroad was more advanced. So, I could have gone to school for a half of a day because things that they were learning, I had already learned years before in Europe. But I chose to just take some fluff classes after lunch, just so I could stay with my cousin because we shared a car.
[00:14:02] I had no way to get home anyways. So, I said, let me just take something to fill up the rest of my day. So, I ended up taking Spanish and German, which were easy A’s for me because of how I grew up. So those are things that I had to adjust to. Even school lunch was shocking for me because quite honestly, we were spoiled in Europe.
[00:14:22] We had much better lunches than they have here in the United States. So little things like that.
Paula: [00:14:29] Talking about America. I actually liked that. And I say, ” like that ” because most times the women I speak to – most of them, let me talk about immigrant women.
[00:14:40] These are women coming from a culture where their parents are from and so they’re come in here and things sometimes are so new, but you said your both parents were American and school lunches here were strange. Everything here was strange.
Aisha: [00:14:56] They were, we have very spoiled, even the school bus when I came here and I saw that yellow bus, which I called ” The cheese bus ”
[00:15:05] I thought about how we rode to school on my bus, because when I got to seventh grade, we then went to another school, which was quite a distance from where I lived in Germany. It was an international school. At the time I didn’t know it was a private school, but it was quite a distance. So, we wrote a school bus, but it was more like a tour bus or something that here in the United States, they would take on a long journey.
[00:15:32] That was a normal school bus for us. So, on that bus, which now they have the Keurig, but we had our own version on the school bus. So, riding to school, we could get hot chocolate, there was coffee, there was lattes, there was a little machine on the school bus we had access to. So, when I look at ” the cheese bus ” here, it’s so shocking to me. This is what you ride to school in?
[00:15:56] Wow. We were very spoiled, but when you are living in it, you don’t know that. It’s just a way of life. It’s normal. I can easily go to different types of restaurants and get foods. These are the types of things we had on the menu at school, we had Asian foods, we had German foods, they had things like pizza hut as well, but even here in the United States, they don’t have that option.
[00:16:18] It’s a no-name pizza with strange cheese on it. We had an array of selections, fresh salad, things like that. And we also have the option to leave school for lunch and come back. Here in the United States, I believe that you really can’t do that unless you’re a senior, but there all ages have that option definitely seventh through 13th grade had the option. And that’s another thing that I had to get used to, is that here in the United States, there is no 13th grade. Whereas in Europe that’s common – to have 13th grade. Those are all the types of things that I had to get adjusted to. Is very strange for me.
Paula: [00:17:00] And I’m laughing cause I’m hearing about this school that you went to and almost like I get, could I go there if I could, everything was possible to reverse your age. This sounded like school in a hotel, a five star
Aisha: [00:17:13] It was, we had amazing trips. We would go on ski trips and trips to Paris, which the school called the Hemingway Paris trip, which was a part of the literature class.
[00:17:27] So we have trips like that, where we saw all kinds of things. I was able to be there when the Berlin wall was up and when it was down. So, I was literally a part of history. Whereas now I am smiling because my children are learning about that in school. And I was able to tell them mommy was there when it was up.
[00:17:46] So I know what it was like, how tense it was in Germany at that time. And I was also there when it came down and I was there to see the excitement. And the emancipation of those people behind the wall. So, things like that, being able to be right there in the country where concentration camps were and being able to just go, whereas now here in United States, children can only do that virtually they’re taking field trips through their computer, but I was there.
[00:18:13] So those are all the things I’m grateful for, but things that made me different. Two students here in the United States who did not have those same experiences. Some of them did travel, but not very many of them did not have a passport. I still know people who don’t have passport and I’ve had them my entire life since birth.
Paula: [00:18:33] So different.
[00:18:34] We’re talking with Aisha Martin an American who became an immigrant. In America, literally somewhat. So, I love it though. I love it. And so, I’m now looking back at your immigrant journey and I’m saying but essentially you were an immigrant. What would you say to inspire women like you, those who are coming from a foreign country to America, which is what you were doing, what would you say?
Aisha: [00:19:09] First of all, I feel like a lot of women feel the need to, I don’t know if I want to use the word assimilate, but they feel like they need to leave behind what they know or pieces of their culture or pieces of who they are. And I don’t feel that they should do that because that is one of the beauties, I feel that America has to offer is that this is a melting pot.
[00:19:31] A lot of people here are immigrants or are children of immigrants. And if people come here feeling like they have to leave behind their language, their customs, their traditions, then those are going to be gone and they’re not going to be around for much longer. So, I feel that they should embrace the United States, embrace it for what it is, but also incorporate their cultures traditions within that.
[00:19:57] There are so many people who come from other countries and in their country, they were doctors in their countries, they were entrepreneurs. Don’t leave that behind. Bring that here. There is someone who needs what you have, whether it’s teaching someone another language. I know I love learning languages and that probably has to do with how I grew up.
[00:20:17] But why not learn from someone who’s native, rather than someone who learned it in the university and that’s not their first language? I would prefer to learn it from someone who speaks that language naturally, things like that. If you are a masterful chef, there are so many different resources for immigrant people that they just don’t know about.
[00:20:38] But one of the things that they need to do is, link up with organizations that help you find jobs or possibly give you business grants and business loans, because they’re actually, I found it quite easy to get if you are an immigrant and those are some of the types of things that I would tell them to do, just come here and be great.
[00:20:58] They say, this is the land of opportunity. So, I would say seize the opportunity. There are opportunities out there, but the immigrant women who come here just need to seize them and take advantage of them because someone out there is looking for what you have. Your skillset, whether it’s being a seamstress, educator, someone who’s good at math, someone who’s good in science.
[00:21:20] There’s something out here for you and someone needs it.
Paula: [00:21:25] That’s a great tip. I like it. I’m an educator. You are an educator. I love your mantra. Tell me it again.
Aisha: [00:21:35] “Girls Can’t Be What They Don’t See “. That is one of the reasons I started the organization – FEMS for STEM and the Steminist Brand just last year, because so many girls have come up to me and just by looking at me, they’ve said, “ I didn’t know you were a scientist” because in their mind, a scientist looks a certain way.
[00:21:56] A scientist is a white male. A scientist is not just a white male, but a white male who is socially awkward. Someone who has glasses with tape in the middle. Someone who has acne, a scientist is not a black female. One who dresses fashionably, one who likes to have fun, one who socializes well with people.
[00:22:20] That’s not a scientist for them. So, I’m trying to change that mindset and empower them by science education, those types of programs, scholarships, connecting them with other mentors. Science is my field, I’m not a technologist, I’m not an engineer, I’m not a mathematician, but I know them. And I want girls to be able to see themselves in those roles and see themselves at university obtaining those degrees.
[00:22:48] So that is the inspiration behind the organization and the brand itself. I want them to see the power that they hold and what they can accomplish.
Paula: [00:22:58] Beautiful. I support you 100% now for our listeners. STEM is an acronym for??
Aisha: [00:23:05] Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math.
[00:23:09] I particularly like it that’s being pushed by you, Aisha and women in general, because as you rightfully said, girls cannot be what they don’t see.
Aisha: [00:23:20] That’s right. That’s right. Growing up. I didn’t have Dora the Explorer or, to open my mind to the world. I didn’t have things like even Bill Nye, who is a white male scientist, there was no bill nine. There was no what’s it’s another television show for girls. It’s not on the air anymore, but she’s a child doctor, Doc McStuffins.
[00:23:45] There was no Doc McStuffins, so I didn’t have a lot of exposure to people who looked like me in the field of STEM. I had to learn a lot of things on my own but had there been women in the forefront who looked like me in the field, who were able to guide me in the direction that I needed to go, my path would have been a lot easier.
[00:24:06] So I’m trying to change that for girls
Paula: [00:24:09] And I support you 100%. The STEMinist brand was founded in 2020, and prior to that, there was Fem for STEM, which you founded in 2015.
Aisha: [00:24:21] Fems for STEM. Yes. Yes.
[00:24:26] And the names were deliberate. I could see some thought went into that.
[00:24:29] Cause everything I do is for females; I support males in STEM 100%. However, women in STEM and specifically women of color, we have been marginalized, ignored. We have been made to feel that we are less than many of us have gone through the imposter syndrome where you know that you deserve what you’re getting, that you deserve that job or that position, but you don’t feel that way.
[00:24:55] One of the amazing things that I saw was when the movie “Hidden Figures ” came out. The character played by Taraji P Henson; she was asked to leave her name off of the report that she had written. That same thing happened to me…and we’re talking about years later, the same exact thing I had spent a lot of time and effort, and it was a lot of back and forth because I refused to take my name off because that was my intellectual property.
[00:25:26] I’m the one who created the graphs. I’m the one who crunched the numbers. I’m the one who typed up the entire report. So, I felt that part of the movie strongly because I had been through it. And these are the type of things that happen all the time. I’ve had a manager throw a pen at my head because he didn’t like something that I said, and it narrowly missed my eyes. Women in STEM and specifically women of color, we go through these things all the time. And that is why I want to empower girls and equip them with the tools that they need to be successful, coming out of high school. I want them to have an extensive STEM resume so that they can compete with anybody on a global level, not just nationally, but globally.
[00:26:14] So I’m very passionate about both the organization itself and the brand. And yes, they were very deliberate. Fems for STEM as females for STEM. So fems for short and STEMinist. A combination of feminist and STEM together because I am passionate about women in STEM and girls in STEM.
Paula: [00:26:33] I share your passion,100%. I’ll have to tell you about my math journey. So, I share your passion. So, a question I wanted to ask, but you’ve answered it, but I’ll let you elaborate on it is you’re a success. It’s not a question. This is a statement. You are a success. Tell us about that.
Aisha: [00:26:52] You know, I have done so many amazing things by being aligned with the right people.
[00:26:58] I never imagined in my wildest dreams that I would do things outside of science and I have been able to be a contributing author to one book and coauthor two others. I am in the process of coming out with a solo project, a book of my own. These are not things that I ever thought I would do. I thought I would just be in the lab.
[00:27:22] I initially wanted to be a doctor, a pediatrician to be exact, but I never thought I would be able to add author to my name. I never thought that I would be able to add publisher to my name. And I say that because I am coming out with my own magazine soon, just like I said, to celebrate, highlight women of color in STEM.
[00:27:40] So I’m very excited about that, but these are never things I thought I would be able to do. To be recognized by the White house. President Barack Obama at that time for my volunteer experience, I didn’t set out to earn these accolades. I never do things for the kudos or the applause, but being aligned with the right people, being passionate about what I do, people are able to see that, and I’m just so honored and feel so blessed to be celebrated for those things and for doing something that I love and that I’m passionate about.
Paula: [00:28:12] I’m speechless, but that’s because I’m so proud.
Aisha: [00:28:16] Thank you so much.
Paula: [00:28:18] We’re almost wrapping up, but are there any questions that you’d love me to ask, and I haven’t asked yet? And you’re like please ask me this. I’m giving you permission to do that.
Aisha: [00:28:28] More so of a comment. I just really want to empower immigrant women to stop apologizing for who they are, because that is what makes them unique.
[00:28:40] I want them to stop playing small because they are great. They are so great and amazing. Many of my friends are immigrant women and I lean on them for strength because their strength comes from so many different places. As most women, we pull our strengths from different places. So, I would just encourage immigrant women to just show up in the United States.
[00:29:05] Unapologetically. One question I would have you to ask is how can people get in touch with me? Because I really want to connect with immigrant women. I come from strong groups. I was born in the United States, raised abroad, but my family background comes from The Bahamas. And that’s not something I knew right away because that’s not something my grandmother came out and said she used other terms.
[00:29:30] She would say across the water. I didn’t know what that meant until I got older. And that’s where certain customs and things came from. But now I know that I really do come from strong roots. And I was very excited to get my ancestry DNA results and see more of my background, especially the African side of it, to know where I came from in Africa based on my DNA.
[00:29:55] So if I can say I come from strong roots, I know that these other immigrant women come from strong roots and they have a lot to offer. So, I would just challenge them to actually use those gifts and talents. Keep in touch with me on all social media platforms. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, reach out to me in one of those three ways.
[00:30:15] Email, share your journey with me. I’m celebrating with you. And I can’t wait to see what they do in the United States. And I know it’s going to be something great. I just feel it. I know.
Paula: [00:30:27] That’s awesome. You’ve said reach out to you. Social media, email, your website. Can you give us those, like your handles Twitter?
[00:30:37] Oh, sure. Sure. So, all of them are exactly as they listed. So FEMS for STEM F as in Frank, E M as in Mike, S as in Sam, the number 4 STEM. So PHIMS for STEM. It’s the same one. Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, the STEMinist brand. And Ms. Mrs. Ayesha, Nicole. All of them are the same on all of the platforms. And you can find my email addresses on those platforms as well, and website information, and I look forward to connecting with a lot of your listeners.
[00:31:20] Awesome. I’m saying I’m repeating myself so awesome to the 10th power.
Aisha: [00:31:27] Thank you so much. Thank you again for having me. I really appreciate it. Absolutely.
Paula: [00:31:33] My dear wonderful listeners. If you have enjoyed what you just heard, please head over to Apple podcasts, Google podcasts, Spotify, or anywhere else, where you listen to podcasts and please click subscribe.
[00:31:48] If you are an immigrant woman from Nigeria, from Ghana, from the Caribbean, or from Africa, and have found these stories. Interesting. Please let us know in your reviews. And if you would like to be a guest on my show, Chatting With the Experts, please head over to www. ChattingWithTheExperts.com/contact-us.