STEM Panel: Engineers, Africa, Straws, and Drugs
Do anyone of these statements resonate with you?
“If I’m feeling out of place when I walk into a room – then I need to be there.”
“Push yourself to be your best – always.”
“Don’t work too much.”
“Say your crazy idea.”
Let’s go outside of pharmacy for a moment. Read below about a few rock star women who are killing it in their STEM fields. In lieu of an interview this month, read on about what they had to say – AND – what the female students asked.
Recently I was invited to be on a panel of women at our local high school for a “Women in STEM Day.” All female students were invited and were excused from their classes. There was a career fair with booths representing organizations and colleges. There were presentations from women who work in all STEM areas. The event I participated in, the STEM Panel, was offered three times over three periods. I was on the panel with 6 other women who I’d like to introduce you to. We each had a few minutes to introduce ourselves and then the students asked questions. The questions from these young women were fascinating! Typical me, I took notes furiously as my fellow panelists spurted wisdom and encouragement. True story: the woman to my right, Dr. Tanya Berger-Wolf, PhD, showed a YouTube clip to showcase her work – and everyone needs to watch this 1:30min video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=3&v=rQqao37u1wU. Try following that with, “I’m a pharmacist.” Selfishly, I was thankful that I introduced myself before the students became mesmerized with this video clip (ha!); you’ll understand after you watch the video.
Here are my takeaways: all of these women are amazing and each brought their story into their answers. Stories that high school females need to hear. Stories about a jagged career path, filled with lions, tigers, and bears. Stories about finding mentors and finding themselves. Stories about men and kids. Stories about their dreams. Here is a snippet from that day:
Dr. Stacy Kowalczyk: Director of the Information Management Masters program in the School of Information Studies at Dominican University. She talked about information architecture, systems analysis, and human-computer interactions. My favorite thing about Stacy’s story is that someone recommend she should become a coder LONG before this was a thing, and she went back to school at age 50 to get her PhD. Also, we loosely decided we’re going to coauthor a book about encouraging students in higher education. It’s going to be called, “Points or Pizza.”
Emily DiFrisco: Director of Communications for Plastic Pollution Coalition. She helps organizations become aware plastic pollution and its toxic impacts on waterways, oceans, and the environment. Her advice, “Make time for hobbies. Put the work in and then be confident in yourself and abilities.” Emily won us all over when she told us that she brought stainless steel straws for every.single.person.
Dawn M. Rose, JD, CHHR: She is a self-proclaimed “STEM-wannabe” who pursued other avenues when she hit roadblocks. She became a lawyer and worked in HR. Her life always brought her back to STEM and now she works at Northwestern Memorial Hospital and supports the research and leadership efforts of neurologists in the practice. My favorite story Dawn told was that she won 1st place in an elementary school leaf collection project and she said repeatedly that she always wanted to be pharmacist. In my opinion, the world needs her exactly where she is.
Davorah Bowen: Project Engineer at FedEx Express. She stated she’s “driven by her belief that quality is a standard and a byproduct of intentional, thoughtful and skillful planning and execution.” She designs/executes all of the maps for the FedEx drivers. The maps, you guys. All.Of.The.MAPS. My favorite thing about Davorah’s presence was that she thoughtfully and respectfully answered all of the student questions about engineering and robotics and she showed us how to do it with eloquence and authority and respect for their dreams.
Leslie McKinney, MS: She is the Chicago Director of Black Women in Science and Engineering (BWISE). The students in the room were not shy about speaking up and saying they have not found a role model in robotic engineering, marine biology, or a dermatologist who was a woman of color. Leslie not only spoke of the benefits of her organization in STEM, but also had a personal connection for EACH one of those students. Those students left with a name and an email address. It made me think: who do we know that can help someone? Are we sharing that enough?
The students – all in high school – asked the following questions:
- Have you ever experienced sexual harassment?
- Is there male entitlement at your job?
- What are the social aspects of your job?
- We’re smart and not “cool” – will this be a bigger struggle in college?
- What if we pick a STEM field, then want to switch?
- How can we incorporate more STEM in elementary and middle school?
Staring into their young eyes, we took turns answering these questions. In summary from the group: reminding them that they have great ideas! If a man is ever upset about something to do with YOUR career, it’s their problem, not yours. Don’t see enough females around? Stop complaining and do something about it! Like Tanya, who started the first computer science club for women. If you don’t have a mentor, find one. And make a commitment to mentor others. Ask for more of what you’re interested in; don’t wait for someone to offer it. And remember the feeling of your brain being so happy – that’s being intellectually stimulated.
Here’s the superheroic takeaway: the kids in our lives are watching us. They are young and eager and hungry for STEM. They are 15 and 16 and 17 and asking about work/life balance and respect in the workplace. No matter how hard our days are; they need to see us with science and math, with jobs and babies, with good days and bad. They are watching us.