Women in STEM inspire today’s females

Women in STEM inspire today’s females

Claire Gilliland, Editor-in-Chief

STEM stands for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics and an occupation in any of these fields usually denotes success — for men.

“I picked STEM because of its diversity and ample opportunity for various career paths,” Jessica Nguyen, Cal Poly Liberal Arts and Engineering Studies major and BC class of 2014 alumna, said in an email response. “There is growing potential which means a good paying job when you get out of college. It is challenging. I like that.”

When one thinks of renowned scientists the majority of the names that come to mind are male.

Despite this prejudice, women like Marie Curie and Rosalind Franklin performed groundbreaking research in their times but went unrecognized for their work. Curie researched radioactivity and Franklin discovered secrets of the structure of DNA; despite their hard work, both women were overshadowed by their male fellow scientists and are now getting the recognition they deserve.

“[A female scientist I admire is] Rachel Carson, she was so influential in environmental sciences and realizing that we’re killing our earth and it can have dramatic effects on us,” biology teacher Kim Forbis said. “You look at Rosalind Franklin and I admire her for the tragedy of her life, how she didn’t get her correct due in discovering DNA. … I don’t know who would be my favorite.”

Although Curie, Carson, and primatologist Jane Goodall are usually well-known in the scientific community, others, like “First Lady of Software” Grace Hopper and “First Lady of Physics” Chien Shiung Wu, are not as famous.

“I’m sure there are so many women scientists that we don’t even know about because they’re just not in the media, they’re not out there,” Forbis said.

This exclusion of women in STEM fields can have a detrimental effect on females hoping to pursue careers in the field. They may experience a lack of female role models in their chosen career, which could discourage them from following through with their ambitions and aspirations.

“I never had any [women in STEM as] role models when I was younger,” Forbis said. “It wasn’t until much later after I already decided to major in science that I discovered some great women of science. … I didn’t know about them when I was growing up.”

“I don’t have any female STEM role models,” Nguyen said. “It’s a male-dominated field and most of my role models are men. However, I do look up to my boss at Keysight Technologies. She studied electrical engineering and like me, found she had a passion for design and marketing…”

Certain fields, like biology, are sometimes viewed as more welcoming to women; according to MIT, as of 2014 about half of biology students are female, though this number begins to drop when examining women in higher positions in the field. Other aspects of STEM, however, are more male-dominated.

“It’s very common to be considered inferior especially by males in the class setting; however, I found very quickly that they will have nothing to say if you simply call them out on their behavior,” Nguyen said. “Many times I will simply speak up for myself if I feel like I am being treated unfairly especially when I am talking to professors who have a lot of pride. On three separate occasions I can remember a professor either calling me stupid or ignorant for asking a question in an engineering class.”

Forbis and Nguyen do offer some optimistic advice for girls hoping to pursue STEM careers, however.

“Persist. … [and] build your own little community …[because] if you feel like you belong even to a small group I think that’s a big way to stay motivated and to stay involved,” Forbis said.

“STEM is hard and people will constantly bring you down,” Nguyen said. “Talk to adults who have experience in the field of your interest, research currently open job positions (that relate to what you are studying or at companies of interest), and keep an open mind. College is unpredictable and you will learn so much more about the real world once you leave high school.”