As Black History Month comes to an end and Women’s History Month begins I have spent some time reflecting. In my previous post, I did a spotlight about Dr. Jewel Plummer Cobb who is an African-American research scientist (Cell Biologist/Cell Physiologist) who made great contributions to cancer research. When Cobb entered graduate school there were few Black women in STEM. Now years later, we are still battling this problem. I’m often the only one in many spaces. How can we increase the number of minority women in STEM? What do we need to change?
One way is by having open conversations with each other, participating in forums, having sessions at conferences, developing curriculum for classrooms, hosting seminars at work or joining others online through Twitter Chats. Last month, The National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) #AAWiSTEM hosted a Twitter chat about empowering African-American Women in STEM. This led to a dialogue of Black women scientists sharing challenges and lessons learned while navigating their STEM careers.
After the chat I reread the American Association of University Women (AAUW) “Why so Few?”. This report addresses the reason behind this and provided solutions to increase more women and girls in STEM.
In regards to the question, “Why so Few?”, how do we move forward? Here are my thoughts:
- Making STEM accessible to all, especially underrepresented groups
- Exposure to STEM at an early age both formal and informal
- More research on the leaky pipeline problem
- Encourage girls and women to pursue STEM fields
- More mentoring and sponsorship opportunities
- Have open conversations about challenges faced in STEM and develop solutions that are sustainable
When I think about this, it makes me flashback to my first role model for STEM my aunt, who is an electrical engineer. As I listened to her talk about engineering, science, and research it made my dream real. Role models and mentors are important for everyone, especially in the STEM field. Mentors can provide firsthand insight on what it takes to be in various STEM careers. If you know a student who is interested in STEM foster their curiosity and mentor them. Tell them that scientists are creators, innovators, and leaders. The road is not easy, but it is worth it.
During my senior year of high school I talked to the principal to request to take an additional calculus course that was not offered at my school so I could apply to college. He said yes. I applied to college and received the Gates Millennium Scholarship, a full-ride to attend college and pay for the majority of my graduate school. I am forever grateful for this scholarship. While in college I participated in programs for Minorities and Women in STEM. These programs gave me opportunities to meet STEM students and build friendships, eventually sparking my interests of supporting the next generation of scientists.
Fast forward to the end of college and the beginning of graduate school – things changed. I realized that I was really the only one in my science courses. I was the only black person and sometimes the only woman in my courses. I remember hearing negative whispers from students saying I did not belong. I ignored it and their negativity pushed me harder to move forward. My story is not the only one out there. Let’s change the narrative and support underrepresented students who want to pursue STEM careers. When we share our stories, knowledge, and resources we are one step closer to broadening participation in STEM careers.
What is your story? What are some organizations that support underrepresented groups who want to pursue STEM careers?