Friday, February 3, 2017

UW Fostering Diversity in STEM Fields

After a semester of working as the communications intern for Wyoming EPSCoR, it has been brought to my attention the underrepresentation of minority groups in STEM fields. As a female, and more importantly as a writer, it is important to me that we bring together people with diverse backgrounds. Although science is objective, it is also inherently human. We all perceive and observe the world differently and when we invite different viewpoints to the conversation we are more likely to innovate and develop the STEM fields.

On Wednesday morning, I was assigned the task of covering the Diversity in STEM presentation. This immediately brightened my day, it's always a treat to step out of the office to interact with students and faculty. The talk was part of a series of events happening during the week in correspondence with the MLK Days of Dialogue .

Teddi Hofmann, the K-14 Project Coordinator for UW's College of Engineering and Applied Science (CEAS), led the program. One of the first statistics Hofmann presented was, CEAS currently has a female enrollment rate of 18%, which is close to the national average. I was shocked to learn this fact, but at the same time I was intrigued to see how we might go about solving this problem.

After talking with minority students at UW, Hofmann found part of the problem with fostering diversity in STEM fields was students had trouble finding good mentors within their fields of study. To combat this issue, Hofmann announced the launch of a new CEAS mentorship program for females. Starting in the Fall of 2017 female students will be paired with alumni mentors. These mentors will offer support and guidance to students in both their personal and professional lives. There will be one on one meetings as well as group meetings to enhance a sense of community.

The pilot program will begin on a small scale, with about 5 student/alumni pairs. Teddi is hopeful that if other colleges see the mentorship program that CEAS is implementing, that they will be inspired to start their own. The SWE is also beginning to develop a mentorship program between K-12 students and undergraduate/graduate students here at UW. Many younger female students are interested in science and math, but loose interest as they enter middle school or high school. The SWE mentorship program would offer a place for girls to build interest in STEM fields and to see the opportunities available in higher education.

Along with these mentorship programs, I was thrilled to discover all of the current organizations on campus that support minority students. These communities play a critical role in diversifying the STEM fields because they offer a place for students voices to be heard. Student leaders from Multicultural Association of Student Scientists (MASS), Society of Women Engineers (SWE), National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE), and Women in Math, Science, and Engineering (WiMSE) presented at the event. All of the groups are working on career development, outreach programs, and social activities that allow for the success of minority students.

The theme for this years MLK Days of Dialogue was the Fierce Urgency of Now. The presentation highlighted this by focusing on the developments we are already seeing here on campus, as well as a bright vision for the future. It was inspiring to see the students who spoke as representatives for their organization, because you could see how these groups had positively impacted their experience here at UW. While the statistics regarding diversity in STEM may seem disheartening, I realized it is not only about the numbers. It is about the people who are working to improve our communities. The heart of the solution is listening to their stories, so their experiences may be validated and heard.

Photos: 1, 2

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