By Joseph Salazar.
March is Women’s History Month. This year’s theme is “Women Inspiring Innovation Through Imagination: Celebrating Women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics”.
Women today currently earn 41% of PhD’s in STEM fields, but make up only 28% of tenure-track faculty in those fields. Keeping that startling statistic in mind and in celebration of this year’s theme, I’d like to take the opportunity to introduce you to some of the women at UMKC who are a part of STEM fields. I had the wonderful opportunity of learning about what it’s like to be a woman in STEM through a Q&A with several faculty members at UMKC.
Kathleen Kilway, Professor—Department of Chemistry
Why did you go into your field? As a high school student, I always enjoyed and excelled in math and science. After talking with my father, I chose a 3:2 program between Notre Dame and St. Mary’s College where one receives a BS in Chemistry (SMC) and a BS in Engineering (ND). After a year, I decided to just complete my BS in Chemistry at SMC. In my last year of undergrad, I was advised to pursue a graduate degree in chemistry. I was sold when I found out that I would be able to continue my studies with a stipend and be able to attend a different University (in my case, it was University of California San Diego – sunny southern California). I chose chemistry (rather than healthcare or biology) because I wanted to try and understand how things worked and interactions at the molecular level.
What are your research interests? My research interests include an area of physical organic chemistry with emphases in synthesis of organic and organometallic compounds, experimental and conformational studies, hydrogen bonding, and molecular synthesis and assembly. From my physical organic chemistry background, I have been able to work on applied research such as the development, synthesis, formulation and testing of dental, bone cement, and biomaterials.
What was it like being a woman in your field when you entered it? When I started at SMC, it was not an issue because it was an all-women’s college so it was live and let live. I thrived in that environment and did not understand the difference until I moved to my graduate career. At UCSD, it became apparent that there were fewer women in the field, especially organic chemistry. There was a stereotyping of women – that they had to be serious and dress rather unisex in order to succeed. Therefore, I had to be driven and motivated to complete the degree. It was also a matter of finding friends, colleagues, mentors, and a great advisor that helped me to succeed and enjoy the experience.
What is it like being a woman in your field today? It has changed some but there are always different groups that make it difficult. I have looked for other mentors, colleagues, and friends who have helped me in times of need but also to discuss personal and professional items. I am extremely grateful to my colleagues, mentors, and friends at UMKC who have helped over the years.