Discrimination can be difficult to overcome. This can be especially true for women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics-related fields.
Ph.D. student Stephanie Fox, who studies evolutionary anthropology, is the president of the University of New Mexico’s Advancing Women in Science club, which is dedicated to fighting obstacles that women in science face.
“Ultimately, we’d like a world where women are unequivocally treated equally to men in STEM fields,” Fox said. “We will keep fighting for that, but until then, we will try to equip women with the skills necessary to persist in STEM.”
AWS accomplishes this through various activities that involve activism, outreach and mentorship. Sometimes that means going to talk to elementary and high school students. Sometimes it means using social media as a platform for stating what AWS stands for and writing letters to the legislature.
“We’ve put out statements on our Facebook page...regarding DACA and students being able to stay here,” said AWS Social Media Coordinator Erin Watson-Chappell, who is working toward her Ph.D. in biology.
Watson-Chappell said AWS is also concerned about education, particularly involving climate change and tax bills.
“If you don’t have a good, solid understanding of science, you can’t really succeed,” Watson-Chappell said.
In terms of their monthly meetings, the club discusses the readings — which are frequently themed — sent out to their members beforehand, she said.
This month, the theme is all about developing strong self-esteem and confidence that does not come from the praise of others, Fox said.
“I decided on this topic after thinking about how undergraduate and graduate students can experience such sharp highs when they receive a compliment from an advisor or a good grade — and experience sharp lows when there is a dearth of positive feedback,” she said. “It seems unhealthy to depend so heavily on others for confidence, so I am hoping we can learn more about techniques for establishing solid self-esteem.”
Sometimes guest speakers and professors come to present during the club’s meetings. AWS also has events outside of the monthly meetings. Those events can involve watching films like “Hidden Figures” or connecting with people from the community who are involved in scientific pursuits, Watson-Chappell said.
One of such events is coming up this Saturday and is called “She Persisted in STEM.”
“The aim is to equip young women entering STEM with the skills and confidence they need to continue in their field,” Fox said of Saturday’s event.
Students can RSVP for the event by Friday on the group’s Facebook page, UNM Advancing Women in Science.
One of Fox’s favorite parts of AWS is the ability to encourage students, she said.
“So often, women in STEM fields have a lot of self doubt and don’t see what others see in them,” Fox said. “It can make a big difference to reach out to someone and tell them what strengths you see. I also enjoy the learning curve that I’m riding. I get to learn how to be a better leader, how to be a better feminist, how to be a better listener and how to be a better change-maker, to name a few.”
Fox and Watson-Chappell both said the club is open to anyone, no matter their gender, background or degree path.
“Seeing so many diverse women doing so many amazing things is really inspiring,” Watson-Chappell said. “For me to see them, I want to do more and be better, because they are doing more and being better.”
Watson-Chappell added that AWS is a good opportunity to network, which opens opportunities that might not have been available otherwise.
“I think that Advancing Women in Science is a valuable place for women to network, to meet each other and to build a community, because it can sometimes be difficult to succeed in science if you’re a woman,” Watson-Chappell said.
Those interested in learning more about AWS can go to UNM Advancing Women in Science on Facebook, sign up on the listserv email or attend monthly club meetings.
Ariel Lutnesky is a culture reporter for the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at email@example.com or on Twitter @ArielLutnesky.