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Ford Center for the Fine Arts

Diandra Soemardi '17

Chemistry Ph.D. student, University of Maryland

Major in Chemistry, Minor in Creative Writing

Diandra also advocates for women, women of color, and Indonesians in STEM

Diandra Soemardi pictured in the chemistry lab.

Diandra recently participated in an "Instagram takeover" for STEM with Her, an organization in Jakarta, Indonesia, whose mission is to encourage young Indonesian women to pursue careers in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) fields.

What have you been up to since graduating from Knox?

I’m currently doing my Ph.D. in chemistry at University of Maryland. Meanwhile, I also serve as the vice president for the Association for Indonesian Students in the U.S., Washington, D.C., Chapter (Permias D.C.). I’m also a huge advocate for women, women of color, and Indonesians in STEM. 

What are you studying at the University of Maryland?

I am developing catalysts for selective C-H oxidation with O2. Basically, my goal is to make a traditionally difficult reaction perform in a more sustainable and cleaner manner, using O2 as a cheap and abundant oxidizing agent, as opposed to other traditionally more expensive and toxic reagents. 

What inspired you to make an Instagram video for STEM with Her?

Growing up, nobody really understood why I wanted to be a scientist. Through middle school, high school, and even until now I’ve been told that I’m wasting my time, and that I should pursue other careers. Scientists do not get a lot of attention in Indonesia, especially women scientists. If I didn’t have strong role models growing up, I wouldn’t be here right now. And that’s basically what I wanted to do, is to be a role model for young Indonesian girls, just show them that I exist, take up some space in the media.

Obviously, I’m not asking everyone to follow in my footsteps, but just let them know that this is an option. There are so many wrong stereotypes about scientists, and I think that’s hindering a lot of young girls from choosing this career. So, this Instagram takeover is just showing them my normal, day-to-day life, and hopefully break some stereotypes along the way. 

Can you describe a favorite memory from your time at Knox?

I loved the late-night writing workshops at Old Main. The atmosphere of the class was always open, forgiving, and curious. I remember in [Professor of English] Monica [Berlin]’s class, if you submit a poem for the whole class to read, you’re not allowed to speak during [the time] when the class discusses your poems, which could last for two hours. I always felt nervous to share a piece of my vulnerability to my classmates, but I’m always amazed at what eventually came out of it. I also gained so much appreciation and a sense of intimacy with my classmates every time I dissected their work. 

What have you taken from your Knox life into your after-Knox life?

Confidence, a sense of belonging both in the U.S. and in my science, and a lot of experience for me to learn and grow. 

Why is Knox important to you?

Knox gave me an opportunity to dabble in everything. Not only was I heavily involved in the chemistry department, but I also took creative writing classes, taught a dance class and performed for Terpsichore, and even TA-ed for an anthropology course. It was awesome. 

Anything else you’d like to mention about your education, advice you have for students, etc.?

Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, ask stupid questions, and learn all the things you didn’t know you wanted to learn. In these current times, stay connected with each other, keep supporting each other, and find creative outlets for you to keep doing what you love. I know it’s tough, but we’ll go through it together.

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Printed on Wednesday, April 24, 2024