Women in STEM Week celebrates diversity of experiences

Women who pursue degrees and careers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) often face struggles due to these disciplines being sometimes overwhelmingly male-dominated. Shira Wein ’19, a computer science major, said she can attest to some of these struggles.

“I’ve often questioned my own abilities and my path in STEM, but studying computer science has been incredibly rewarding and challenging,” she wrote in an email. “I’m immensely grateful for the mentors I’ve had, both faculty and older students, who have encouraged me to stay in the field.”

This week, Lafayette College hosted its first ever Women in STEM week with the intention of highlighting the diverse experiences of women in the field. The week included a variety of activities each day, including guest speakers, panels and interactive activities.

The series of events was a student-led initiative, organized by Wein. The program was sponsored by Women in Computing, the Society of Women Engineers, the Math Club and Women in Sciences. Some alumni are also involved in the activities, including Carol Nelson-Felzenberg ‘82, who is involved in the panel discussions.

The events have been well attended by students. On Monday, about 40 people attended the alumni panel discussing the gender gap in computing, and about 50 people attended both Tuesday’s mozzarella-making experience, led by professor of chemical engineering Polly Piergiovanni, and Wednesday’s discussion on experiences as a woman in math, led by Chawne Kimber, Allison Lewis and Elizabeth McMahon, who are all professors in the math department.

Also scheduled for the week is a talk by Dr. Kira Armacost, a computational chemist, where she will discuss her transition from college into the industrial world, as well as a final celebration over lunch today.

Wein, a chief organizer of the events, has personal experience in the STEM field, studying computer science at Lafayette.

Wein decided to study computer science because she enjoys “the puzzles the field provides.” She explained that she was never a “nerdy superstar.”

“The expectations set for women in STEM are unimaginably high,” Wein said.

While Lafayette College emphasizes diversity in all departments, Wein said it is still important to celebrate women in STEM fields.

“Part of the problem in STEM fields is you feel alone and isolated, so by getting everyone together, now here at Lafayette, in Women in STEM week, it’s a chance for everyone to feel like they’re not alone. It encourages everyone,” said computer science professor Joann Ordille, a faculty advisor to Women in Computing. She participated in the organization of Women in STEM week.

Ordille said she hopes the program can extend beyond what it currently entails.

“Inclusive STEM includes not only women in STEM, but any underrepresented group in STEM…creating an environment at Lafayette where we can encourage each other more effectively,” Ordille said.

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