KILLEEN, TX — Most of us don't start thinking about what we want to study in college until our junior year of high school.
One Killeen teenager is already enrolled in a master's program, with two associate's degrees and one bachelor's, all concentrated in the STEM field.
At just 12-years-old, Hannah Baratang started taking classes at Central Texas College. She says back then, she had no idea what she wanted to do, so her mom picked her very first major.
“I didn’t really know what I wanted to do back then. I was just 12, so my mom picked my first major, and it was business. It was so boring, I just couldn’t take the heat,” said Baratang.
She then tried psychology, but says it didn’t feel right.
After taking a biology course with a female professor at CTC, Baratang says something about it just felt right.
At the age of 17, she graduated from CTC with two associate's degrees, one in organismal biology and the other in chemistry. From there, she attended A&M Central Texas to get her bachelor's degree in Biology, with a concentration in organismal biology.
Baratang says having strong female mentors at A&M Central Texas, like Dr. Laura Weiser Erlandson, motivated her, making her feel like her dreams were attainable.
“They really just inspired me. I felt comfortable, I felt like that could be me. I think you really worked hard to make this program challenging,” Baratang said to Dr. Weiser Erlandson.
In 2019, women accounted for 27% of workers in STEM-qualified industries, but at A&M Central Texas, Dr. Laura Weiser Erlandson, Associate Professor of Biology and Chair of Science and Math, says their STEM programs have over 70% of women in most concentrations. Their biotechnology concentration is 90% women.
“You know, yeah! I want to encourage females! Our program here, we have two full-time faculty currently both female, myself and Dr. Linh Pham, who is a biochemist. We have a female mathematician in our department and she works a lot with KISD,” said Erlandson.
Working with young kids has been a lifelong passion of Erlandson’s. She believes introducing girls to STEM in middle school is key to steadily increasing the number of women we see in STEM industries.
Dr. Weiser Erlandson says she still can’t believe how young Baratang was when she first walked into her classroom. She says she had no clue Baratang was a minor until they had to do the paperwork for her lab job.
“I got a call from Human Resources saying we need to do extra paperwork because she’s a minor and I said you’re kidding me. She was just always ready and willing to help, and that’s one of the main reasons why I thought she was older than she was," recalled the associate professor.
Seeing Baratang as the dedicated, smart and driven 19-year-old she is today, Dr. Weiser Erlandson says not even the sky is the limit for Baratang.
“She is motivated, she’s dedicated, she is smart, and she is going to get everything she wants out of life. I’m just so proud to have been a part of her education and to watch that growth and development,” said Dr. Weiser Erlandson.
Baratang says she is extremely grateful to have a mentor like Dr. Weiser Erlandson to turn to.
For any young people who are interested in STEM, Baratang encourages them to go for it.
“If it’s something you’re passionate about, all of the work in, all of the effort in learning is totally worth it, and honestly if you find it interesting, it won’t even feel like work at all,” she said.
Baratang was recently accepted into a master's program at Texas State to study the amphibian pandemic in Latin America. She will start her classes this fall.