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Sophia Yen '93

Doctor inspires kids to dream big

“What I like about pediatrics is the ability to affect the future,” says pediatrician and adolescent-medicine specialist Sophia Yen ‘93. “Children are multipotential, a bit like stem cells.” But Yen, who has worked with California kids from the poor urban neighborhoods as well as those from the most affluent families, has witnessed a disturbing phenomenon: girls who actually want to get pregnant as teens, viewing motherhood as their only valuable contribution in life. Approximately 750,000 girls between 15 and 19 become pregnant each year. So Yen, a clinical instructor at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital at Stanford University, has decided to help expose girls to other possibilities. “The way to avoid teenage pregnancy is giving them something to hope for,” she says–such as college and careers.

Sophia Yen with her husband, Steve Ko ’93, and daughters Sabrina and newborn Stephanie Yen-Ko.

Enter SheHeroes, the brainchild of Sue Nagle ‘91, MBA ‘97, SM ‘97, an Alpha Chi Omega sorority sister of Yen’s. Cofounded by Nagle, Yen, and Cynthia Closkey ‘88, SM ‘97, with help from other alumnae and Sloan student interns, SheHeroes is a nonprofit that produces a free video series designed to expose girls aged nine to 14 to positive role models. SheHeroes videos, which will be available online and as DVDs and promoted to kids, schools, and other youth programs, showcase women’s achievements through interviews conducted by high-school students. The first, with prominent audiologist Marion Downs, has premiered online, and more are in the works with the likes of Gloria Steinem, Barbara Boxer, and Dolores Huerta, cofounder of the United Farm Workers of America. Yen is also tapping the MIT network for other women who will encourage girls to achieve their maximum potential.

This story is part of the January/February 2010 Issue of the MIT News magazine
See the rest of the issue

Yen herself had a bit of an awakening when she came to MIT to study biology. “MIT opened my eyes that there’s a bigger world out there than California, one with seasons and diverse opinions,” she says. She convinced her high-school sweetheart, Steve Ko ‘93, to transfer to MIT from Berkeley. They are now married with two daughters: Sabrina and Stephanie Yen-Ko.

  • Watch a SheHeroes pilot episode.
  • Watch a video of Yen talking about purpose of SheHeroes.
  • Watch a video on research about online sexual health information for teens.
  • Read about six teen sexual health myths spread by the Web (as identified in Yen’s research) and the correct information.

Yen, who has a master’s in public health from Berkeley in addition to her MD from the University of California, San Francisco, and board certification in both pediatrics and adolescent medicine, seeks to educate the public about emergency contraception, obesity, and reproductive health. Part of her patient assessment for adolescents is to ask them about sex, drugs, and depression. “Kids want to be asked these questions. They want to talk,” she says. And she’s committed to providing them with the answers they need to make informed choices to protect their health.

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