women in stem panelOn May 5, 2020, Skyline College Library was pleased to partner with the STEM Center for the 2nd event in the Science In Action Speaker Series, presenting a Zoom panel discussion by faculty Women in STEM. The panel’s featured participants — including Dr. Safiyyah Forbes, Dr. Emilie Hein, Maryam Khan, Elayne Rodriguez and Dr. Bela Singha — shared experiences in their fields, lessons learned and their personal motivations, as almost 50 participants tuned in for a rich discussion moderated by Outreach Librarian Pia Walawalkar.

The premise? We’venot yet bridged the gender gap in science. One by one, faculty speakers made their case for motivating the next generation of women to earn academic degrees in STEM. They began with some practical advice for female students: 

  • Find a mentor who knows you; mentors motivate you to reach your goals.
  • The road is not easy but it’s doable when you find the right support system. Meet with a counselor who can connect you with the right network.
  • Find a student who is a few steps ahead of you. Ask lots of questions.
  • Join a professional organization such as the Association for Women in Science — and attend local chapter programs and conferences.

Next, speakers explained how being a woman in science is an asset:

“[As a woman], you’re bringing in something new and different. So be okay with being different, don’t fear that that’s a bad thing.”

  • Additionally, the experience of being female in science “makes us stronger when we put ourselves on a larger platform, it helps us with leadership skills and makes us essential members of a team.”
  • Last but not least, from a biological standpoint, studies show women are more resilient than men.

Many faculty expressed career satisfaction in watching their students grow. “I feel a great sense of pride when I see my students transferring and when I observe their evolution. I continue to provide support along their path.” Elayne Rodriguez, Director of Respiratory Care and Allied Health at Skyline College, described her recent pride in her second-year female respiratory therapy students who applied for work permits to join the workforce during the current pandemic, despite the danger. All agreed: “Our [female STEM] students pay it forward to the next generation.”

Faculty concluded with some messages to inspire younger female scientists. 

Maryam Khan, Skyline College Engineering professor and Skyline College alumna, was explicit: “Your parents might scold you, your teachers may tell you you’re going to be nothing when you grow up – I heard those things – but you need to keep your own path.” Others chimed in:

  • Be engaged in school, be patient with yourself, ignore the noise you hear that “You’re a girl, you can’t do this.” Tell yourself you can do anything!
  • As parent to children: Be observant about what you see on your walks. Give constant encouragement and support to girls.
  • Pursue your goals, be persistent.
  • Attend science camps whenever you can.

The session concluded with questions from students. Throughout the hour, it was clear that advice for “thinking outside the box” applies not just to young female scientists, but to all of us now adapting to work during strange and frustrating times: “Remember, there are always three or four ways to solve a problem!” If you weren’t able to tune in, you can catch some inspiration by watching the session on YouTube.

Article by Jessica Silver-Sharp

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