Marie Curie, Jane Goodall, Mae Jemison…Why should women in STEM be anomalies?
It’s a question that students at UNLV set out to answer when they formed a local chapter of Scientistas, a national organization dedicated to encouraging women to pursue and advance in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) fields.
And the move is timely.
According to statistics released this past fall by the U.S. Department of Commerce, women hold nearly as many undergraduate degrees as men overall, but they make up only about 30 percent of all STEM degree holders and specifically hold a disproportionately low number of degrees in engineering. Even with a STEM degree, women who major in one of the associated fields are less likely than their male counterparts to work in a STEM occupation. Women filled 47 percent of all U.S. jobs in 2015, but held only 24 percent of STEM jobs. That’s a saddening trend given that the gender wage gap is smaller in STEM jobs than in non-STEM jobs: Women with STEM jobs earned 35 percent more in 2015 than comparable women in non-STEM jobs — even higher than the 30 percent STEM premium for men and 40 percent more than men with non-STEM jobs.
“Women are just as capable as men and I think it's good to have an organization that highlights that,” said UNLV Scientista member Courtney Hoffman, a pre-professional biology student whose childhood passion for science inspired her to pursue a career in medicine.
“Women are involved in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics,” she said, “and it’s important to us that we are recognized for it and that it be acknowledged that our work and dedication isn’t subpar to men’s.”
Through a support system and community building, both on and off campus, the Scientista Foundation’s mission is to ignite in women a passion for these areas of expertise.
UNLV is among about 35 colleges in the nation to house a chapter, and local co-founder and co-president Alondra Regalado said interest was high.
“I had to collect 50 signatures from students on campus to show that there was support for a chapter. We set up at table outside of CBC and collected the signatures in one day,” she said.
Since February of 2017, the group has held events, including:
- “Beyond Curie: A Celebration of Badass Women in STEM,” an exhibit at the Barrick Museum showcasing artwork and other pieces from neuroscientist and graphic artist Amanda Phingbodhipakkiya. Phingbodhipakkiya flew from New York and spoke alongside UNLV professors Rochelle Hines and Nora Caberoy.
- Scientista Sunday Brunches and Study Nights — small, intimate networking events aimed at “building a stronger community for our members” and “shaping our members to become each other’s role models,” Regalado said, adding: “Getting a STEM degree is hard, but you don’t have to do it alone.”
The chapter focuses on empowerment for K-12 students, too.
#GirlsInSTEM Day — an event held this semester in partnership with Clark County School District Career and Technical Education Department, UNLV College of Engineering, and UNLV Society of Women Engineers, among others — brought 95 fifth- through ninth-grade students from Las Vegas’ West Prep Academy to campus for a full day of workshops.
“This is particularly important for the middle school students who are coming to campus, since this is a time in their education where reinforcing their ability in these fields can have a huge impact on their decisions about their own education and career paths,” said Scientista faculty advisor and UNLV Office of Undergraduate Research program manager Sharon Young.
Hannah Guinn, a pre-professional biology major who was drawn to the Scientista as both a support system and an outlet where she could help empower others, said she she now feels more confident than ever that the STEM gender gap will one day be a thing of the past.
“To me,” she said, “it feels special to work alongside such brilliant, talented, and enthusiastic women who all share a love for the STEM fields.”