STEMation

…the future of STEM diversity.

nov 13

Hope for a better future

It has been a long and ugly 18 months for American politics, and very little policy was actually discussed. The result of the recent presidential election was a clear blow to women and minorities. I’ve never been emotionally affected by an election result before, but this one was different. The not-so-subtle message from the vote was “You don’t belong here.” I know that it was not the only message voters were trying to send — frustration over NAFTA and Washington insiders, to name a few. And I have no doubt that some Trump supporters do not agree with Trump’s message to women, minorities, and the LGBQT community. However, that does not make the comments any more tolerable.

Women working in a ‘Man’s World’ have to endure many comments or slights that build up over years. The slights can range from being inturupted constantly, or having your idea ignored by a group — only to watch a man present your idea and receive praises. For course instructors, these slights can even come from the students! Unfortunately, the most hurtful blow can come from women themselves. When women think their own gender is not capable of doing something, whether it’s becoming a manager, an engineer, or the next president, it is a sign of a bigger systemic problem.

For a long time, feminists have been demanding more support for women in the workforce and more women in STEM. As women and allies try to understand where girls and women are lost along the STEM pipeline from primary school to graduate school, there are still many who believe that women shouldn’t be in STEM or that it is not really a problem for the STEM community. If there is any silver lining to the election results, it may be the obvious proof to naysayers that, as a society, we need to reassess our views on women and their value in our society.

After going through the many stages of grief and shock, I tried to understand what may be going on in the world outside of my bubble. I think it’s clear from this election that Americans on both sides are not happy about the current state of affairs. We all want change; and we wanted it yesterday. Progress can be a long slow process with many setbacks along the way, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. So what can we do as individuals?

A way forward

After some self-reflection, I thought about the work that I do to support the next generation. It often feels like my work will have little impact on the future generation of women and minorities entering in STEM. Changing the views and thoughts of only a few students is still a good start. It has also given me the resolve to work harder to support those students and to work with our male allies.

Last year I was fortunate enough to be appointed Scholarship Chair for the Golden Gate Section of the Society of Women Engineers (GGS SWE). The title itself is a mouthful, but in this new role I’ve learned a lot about fundraising and awareness (for the award itself). Each year we have many bright students apply from the Bay Area, and are able to provide scholarships to 6-8 students each year. The previous GGS SWE Scholarship recipients are young bright women that went off to study engineering or computer science at top schools, such as Stanford, UCLA, and UC Berkeley.

The awards are relatively small compared to the total cost of college education, but these awards also send a strong message to the student recipients: “Yes, you do belong here, and you have what it takes to be a very successful engineer.”

So once again, I find myself trying to fundraise for the scholarship fund, with a new personal goal to raise more funds and support more students than last year. If I’ve learned anything this week, it is that this work is important and needed; more now than ever.


If you’re interested in donating to the GGS SWE scholarship, please visit our donation page.

GGS SWE is a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt, non-profit education service organization. Please email me if you have any questions regarding the scholarship (g.oconnell@berkeley.edu).

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