By Michelle Lampariello
For young girls and women considering a career in the sciences, the Women in STEM panel, comprised of three female students who study science and one chemistry professor at the College, made one thing clear: Women belong in STEM.
The Women in STEM panel, held on Nov. 15 in the Library Auditorium, is part of an effort to reduce the male-dominated stigma around the science industry. The panel was organized by senior psychology majors Kalyani Parwatkar and Desi Baleva, senior finance major Paul Bitterly, senior women’s, gender and sexuality studies major Kelsey Fama and senior early childhood education and psychology double major Aimee Sandoval.
The event began with a round of Kahoot!, a game in which participants can vote in polls using their smartphones, to gauge the audience’s awareness of women’s involvement in STEM on campus. The results indicated that several female audience members felt uneasy taking STEM classes at the College.
Panelists addressed this uneasiness while discussing their professional journeys thus far, and some of the obstacles they have faced as women.
“Once I got into the workplace, I realized that there was definitely a gender bias that existed,” said Stephanie Sen, a chemistry professor at the College. “It has a lot to do with how when you’re a woman, the expectation is that you’re a nurturing individual — you’re somebody who will maybe not take a leadership role and instead maybe take a supportive role, and that is probably the most difficult thing to deal with in STEM.”
Christina Vassalo, a junior iSTEM and elementary education double major, suggested that this gender bias is rooted in how children are raised.
“Getting children at a young age to be immersed in STEM, and not separating the boys to the sandpit and the girls to a garden, having them be equal with the toys and the lessons and what you’re choosing to teach them — I hope I can help foster that sense of equality in STEM,” Vassalo said.
Student panelists acknowledged that while they have not experienced much adversity at the College, they are prepared to encounter gender-based challenges in the workforce.
Archana Menon, a senior biology major, addressed her goal to become a surgeon, and how the male-dominated field of surgery may pose challenges for her as a woman.
“I want to become a surgeon, and I feel like that is the most discriminated field a doctor could go into in terms of men and women because you don’t really see a lot of female surgeons,” Menon said. “Surgery has always been a passion of mine, and I’m a little anxious about meeting those obstacles, but I really think that I would be able to overcome them just because of how much I want it.”
Cristina Nardini, a senior psychology major, offered advice to young girls seeking careers in the sciences.
“You’re a new generation,” Nardini said. “You don’t need to follow suit with everything that has been going on. You can be those doctors. You can be those engineers. You can be those professors that have a crazy amount of publications.”
After the panelists spoke, the audience played another game of Kahoot!. In contrast to the first game, the majority of the predominantly female audience indicated that they feel confident about getting involved and taking STEM classes at the College.
This change was perhaps due to a concept stressed by all of the panelists — women can, and should, identify as scientists and set career goals in STEM.
“I don’t just want to be a doctor,” Menon said. “I want to revolutionize something, somehow. I want to innovate, because that’s who I am. I’m a scientist.”