From the suffrage movement to labor activism, women have had a long fight for equality in society and in the work place. The fight, however, is not yet over, especially for women who go into science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) related fields of employment.
A study conducted by the United States Department of Commerce found only 24% of the people who work in STEM are female. For comparison, 48% of all employed U.S. adults are female.
The gender gap in STEM careers makes it difficult for women to feel like they belong in their field, which is why UMKC’s Dr. Daniel McIntosh, a professor and undergraduate advisor of astrophysics, felt the need for an organization dedicated to women in STEM.
Last fall, after creating UMKC’s Women in Science (Wi-Sci) organization, he turned it over to the women leaders of the group.
Madalyn Weston, a PhD student in Astrophysics and Curriculum & Instruction, is President of Wi-Sci.
“Dr. McIntosh saw a number of his students come in and read research about women in STEM and the difficulties they face, so he wanted to create a group as a way for us to build comradery and be a support system for one another,” said Weston. “He then passed it onto us so that it could grow without his influence.”
Women in STEM fields often deal with what McKensie Callahan, Treasurer of Wi-Sci and an undergrad student in Physics with an emphasis in Astronomy, referred to as “Imposter Syndrome.” This is when someone feels like they don’t legitimately belong to a group they are a part of.
“When Dr. McIntosh approached me with the idea, I was really on-board because it took me a really long time to figure out that this was where I wanted to be,” said Callahan. “I couldn’t picture myself in a STEM field and I don’t want any other girl to go through that same experience, because if this is where you belong, this where you belong.”
In addition to supporting one another, the members of Wi-Sci are passionate about getting more women involved in STEM fields. For Weston, it’s a big reason why she decided to join the group.
“I’m very passionate about promoting women in science and getting more women involved in it,” said Weston. “It’s not fun being the minority, in our Galaxy Evolution Group there are about 10 researchers and I’m the only girl.”
Wi-Sci connects with the local community and encourages young women to pursue STEM careers. They reach out to elementary, middle and high schools in the area. Last week, Callahan visited an elementary school and gave a presentation showing kids that women can have careers in science, too.
The group also hosts other events including luncheons with women in STEM who visit UMKC and panels of women in STEM who give insight into what it’s like pursuing a graduate degree in the field.
The group meets once a week and members discuss studies they find interesting, debate issues, and discuss not only how to be a woman in STEM but also how to be a man in STEM who supports female colleagues.
Wi-Sci is open to any UMKC student regardless of their major or gender.
“I like being in this group for the women’s issue, the comradery,” said Mark Pederson, a PhD student in Physics. “I sometimes feel isolated in Physics as a guy, and I can’t imagine what the women have to deal with.”
This semester, weekly meetings alternate between Wednesdays and Thursdays, but the day will change next semester as the availability of group members change. The last two meetings of the semester are scheduled for Wednesday, April 26 at 11:00 am and Thursday, May 4 at 11:00 am in Flarsheim 256.
Anyone interested in finding out more information about Women in Science can contact Weston at email@example.com.