Editor's Note: After receiving a message from a member of the STEM Collaborative Center, changes were made to this article. The number of Native American women that compose the U.S. engineering population was clarified. Helena Baca's title was updated to state she has a Ph.D. in chemistry, rather than a master's degree. UNM’s STEM Collaborative Center and UNM’s Advancing Women in Science both collaborated with the WRC to create the event, not just the STEM Collaborative Center — this was updated as well. The Daily Lobo apologizes for any confusion.
The University of New Mexico Women’s Resource Center celebrated Women’s History Month on Thursday by hosting a panel discussion, featuring five women in science, technology, engineering and math fields.
The center worked with UNM’s STEM Collaborative Center and UNM’s Advancing Women in Science to plan and host the event. Anna Reser, the co-founder and co-editor-in-chief of Lady Science Magazine, gave the welcome address for the event. She explained the importance of history of women in STEM and how that impacts the challenges women face today.
According to Reser, the knowledge and history of science is impacted by male-centric representation.
“Women have always been part of science, engineering and technology,” Reser said. “They were just not included in this history.”
Sandra Begay, one of the panelists, is a principal member of the technical staff at Sandia National Laboratories. She collaborates with Native American tribes to work on their renewable energy developments, and she is one of the 13,000 Native American women in the United States who are engineers, she said — meaning Native American women are 0.007 percent of the U.S. engineering population.
Begay became interested in engineering when a sixth grade teacher said she might find engineering and architecture interesting.
Having a mentor during your career can make a world of difference. Surrounding people who encourage your dreams helps you succeed, she said.
“Plenty of people will tell you that your big dream is too big. You don’t need people to tell you that you can’t reach your dreams. Surround yourself with people who support you. Your mentor should be one of those people,” Begay said.
Nancy Lopez, another one of the panelists, is a sociology professor at UNM. She said sociology is not always included in STEM studies, but it is still a male-dominated field.
Lopez, like Begay, said it is essential to find a mentor that has similar interests as you and is passionate about what they do.
Lopez’ work focuses on racial inequalities. She said she has come up with a new measure of race called “street race,” which is based solely on what race people would assume someone is from by just looking at them, without knowing anything about that person’s heritage.
“The reason we collect race data is to protect vulnerable communities and protect them against discrimination,” Lopez said.
All of the panelists said they have faced challenges as women in traditionally male-dominated fields. This is one of the reasons the panel was a celebration of women in STEM, along with their past and present contributions to society, Reser said.
Panelist Mercedes Metzgar, a biology and history student at UNM, works for the Women’s Resource Center as the STEM program assistant.
Metzgar said one of the best choices she made in her undergraduate career was exploring multiple subjects and taking classes in different fields. It allowed her to decide what path she truly wanted to follow.
Panelist Helen Baca is a patent attorney at Sandia National Laboratories. Baca has a Ph.D. in chemistry and a J.D. She said that, as a woman in chemistry, she had to create her own education and career path, because she was not sure what that path was supposed to look like.
Callie French, another panelist, is a civil engineer and oversees the STEM team at UNM’s Center for Academic Program Support. She is accustomed to working at job sites where she is the only woman, and at UNM, French works to encourage women in STEM and support their dreams, she said.
“There are many obstacles that women experience, but we push past those (by) not taking that as (the) status quo,” French said.
One of the best ways to support women pursuing their education and careers in STEM is to be a role model for them. It helps to have female professors who are in the same field that you want to be in, Lopez said.
Being able to see where you could be further down the line can be inspiring, Begay said. She added that showing your students that they can pursue those dreams and reach those goals is one of the most effective ways of encouraging women to remain in STEM fields, even when they face challenges.
“The picture of science looks very different when it includes women. The story is incomplete without women. We continue to work to include marginalized individuals. We still have so much work to do,” Reser said.
Megan Holmen is a freelance reporter for news and culture at the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com or on Twitter @megan_holmen.