It’s no secret that UC Merced’s student population is 51% women. However, when you look around in higher mathematics, engineering, chemistry, and bioengineering courses, how many women do you see? How many women do you know that remain a science, technology, engineering, or math major after their first semester? How many go on to do scientific research as an undergraduate?
The sad truth is, after one or two semesters in an university, many women in STEM change their major to social sciences, humanities, or arts. I remember in my first semester at UC Merced, every woman I knew was a STEM major. My closest female friends were studying to become mechanical engineers, chemists, and human biologists. However, after one year, I was the only one left in STEM. Abandoned in my chosen field of biology, I felt alone.
It wasn’t until I was well into my second semester at UCM that I finally found a role model. Kinsey Brock is a Ph.D student here at UCM and in spring semester of 2016, she was my TA for Bio 001. She introduced me to the realities of life as a scientist as well as incredible research opportunities that I still take advantage of today. Kinsey soon introduced me to W-STEM, of which she is a founding member, and through W-STEM, she also became my mentor. I soon became her lab assistant and she kept finding opportunities for me to not only strengthen my resume, but also gain necessary experience for my chosen career path. It did not take me long to understand how important a mentorship can be to a woman in science or anyone in need of guidance through the higher academia.
Women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (W-STEM) is an organization on campus dedicated to the advancement and empowerment of women in STEM fields. Women make up less 25% of all available STEM jobs, and it is very likely that, in addition to outdated gender roles and blatant sexism that exists in “male-dominated” fields of science and math, the lack of female role models in universities has cause women to shy away from STEM majors. That’s exactly why W-STEM has it’s very own success mentorship program designed to provide women on all levels of academia a mentor right here at UC Merced. Undergraduates are paired with graduates, graduates with Ph.D students, and Ph.D students with Post-Docs, and so on.
In addition to offering role models, the mentorship program offers something that every STEM-career hopeful needs: research opportunities. The odds are, if you are an undergraduate, you will be mentored by a graduate student who does research at UCM. The benefits of which are pretty apparent to someone in need of research experience. Brenda Yu, an undergraduate researcher and W-STEM member shares what her mentor offered her: “She introduced me to a research lab on campus and taught me how to email professors, look up publications, and also draft my own CV as a freshman.”
A mentor is a direct line into the research world. They will tell you what you need to know, who you need to know, and what you need to do to possibly work in a lab on campus. They are there for you when you have a question or simply want to find a way to get involved with campus life. Undergraduates can benefit from the early exposure to the scientific world, but graduate students can also find guidance and opportunities from the mentorship program as well. Megha Suswaram, a graduate student at UCM, speaks about her experience with her mentor, a Ph. D student named Melanie LeGro, “She answers all my questions from personal issues to how to talk to professors. Knowing that someone has gone through the same situations that are new to you as a grad student, and having someone to tell you it’s going to be okay, is amazing.”
The thing about W-STEM is that it is always looking to promote women not only in STEM, but also in society. Women are breaking free from the gender roles that are constraining their success and are changing the face of so-called “male-dominated fields.” W-STEM also recently held an carpool event to help women at UCM participate in The Women’s March in Oakland on January 21 so that women in our small town could have their voices heard in history. However, W-STEM is not exclusively for women. Male, transgender, gender-fluid, and non-gender conforming peoples are welcome to join and gain all the benefits W-STEM has to offer. Any person who believes in the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes is welcome and if you like science, engineering, technology, or math, W-STEM just might be your new home.
Photo Credit: Marcus Fox