Maria Zhang kicks off podcast’s Women in STEM series


Staff Report


Even though she was great at math, Maria Zhang grew up thinking boys were inherently the best at it. 

Then her favorite high school teacher challenged her to join the math club in her freshman year. His refusal to take no for an answer tore down a societal barrier that Zhang herself had trouble seeing past. 

“I said I don’t want to join the club because they’re all boys. Girls are not in that club,” Zhang told Dunn School Head of School Kal Balaven on the latest episode of The Whole Student’ podcast“They’re all boys, and I’m a girl. I should do the girl things.”

Zhang said her teacher smiled at her in silence for a couple minutes, until Zhang concluded just how wrong she was. She joined the competitive math team and never looked back. That moment helped launch an impressive career trajectory for Zhang — now a VP of engineering at Instagram who’s held the same title at both Yahoo! and LinkedIn as well as serving as the chief technology officer at Tinder. 

“The Whole Student” podcast is a visual-forward broadcast published on YouTube and the Dunn School website that asks prominent people to share stories about the teachers who inspired them to become the leaders they are today. The audio format of the show may also be found on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Amazon Music and other podcasting platforms.

Zhang’s appearance kicks off an important series of episodes celebrating successful women in STEM. The series has a similar aim as Zhang’s teacher — breaking down stereotypes by showing examples of women excelling in tech industries traditionally dominated by male counterparts. 

“’The Whole Student’ podcast shines a light on the moment when our guests felt seen, heard and known by a teacher in their lives,” Balaven said. “Maria was transformed by the confidence her teacher had in her ability beyond the classroom, and that’s Whole Student education at its core. 

“We hope the Women in STEM series can also help advance discussion of breaking down detrimental stereotypes.”   

Zhang’s episode follows up the podcast’s debut, an interview with James Joyce III in his run up to the Santa Barbara mayoral election. 

The show is produced under the DunnCast umbrella with the intent to distribute additional podcast content alongside “The Whole Student.” That includes learn-by-doing opportunities for student-directed multimedia projects and shows.