In honor of Women’s History Month, Brookhaven National Laboratory hosted the fourth annual Girl Power in STEM Symposium on Saturday, March 4.
Brookhaven Women in Science, along with Stony Brook University’s Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) and Graduate Women in Science and Engineering (GWISE), organized the event, which was held at the Center for Global Studies and Human Development.
Participants ranging from local middle and high schoolers to graduate students had the opportunity to gain insight from various female professionals working in science, technology, engineering, mathematics and related fields.
According to data from a 2016 National Science Foundation report, although women make up half of the college educated workforce in the U.S., they represent only a mere 29 percent of the science and engineering workforce.
“Women should not be intimidated to pursue careers in STEM just because men currently hold a majority in those fields,” Vivian Stojanoff, a physicist at Brookhaven National Labs and one of the organizers for the symposium, said
Over the course of the day, various panelists and keynote speakers discussed the top issues facing women in STEM today. One challenge many of the women identified with was the struggle to gain recognition for their accomplishments and progress into leadership positions at the same rate as their male counterparts.
Keynote speaker Esther Takeuchi, who was awarded the National Medal of Technology and Innovation by former President Barack Obama in 2009 for her work on the battery used to power implantable cardiac defibrillators, said the problem is not due to a lack of suitable women, but rather a lack of representation, which inhibits them from taking the leap forward into top tier positions.
“We need to be persistent, we need to be aggressive and we can’t back off the point that diversity matters,” Takeuchi, who teaches materials science, chemical engineering and chemistry at Stony Brook, said. “If we always accept lower level status … it’s not good enough. We deserve to be represented at the top.”
Another common theme that was touched upon was the benefit of building a support system early on.
“Ask your neighbor, or an upperclassman who just graduated, or an alumni from your school … how they did it, and keep in touch with them,” Evgenia Rubin, panelist and consultant at Accenture Management, said when discussing the importance of finding a mentor.
“It’s all about networking, networking, networking,” Rachel Pierre, a vice president of project management for JP Morgan Chase’s information technology department, added.
At various points throughout the day, students were invited to interact directly with the professionals for one-on-one speed networking sessions. Students also had the option to take part in live science demonstrations, showcasing the work of select researchers from Brookhaven.
“I think it’s important for us to all come together and learn from each other,” Maritza Ventura, a 10th grader at MacArthur High School in Levittown, said.
Ventura, who hopes to study medicine one day, said that she has noticed an imbalance between boys and girls at her school interested in similar career paths. Despite this, she is hopeful that her generation will bring more diversity to the industry.
“This [event] will help raise awareness that women are capable of doing the same types of jobs,” she said.
This was exactly the outcome Kristine Horvat, who organized the symposium along with Stojanof, was hoping for.
“I would’ve loved to have more events like this when I was in high school to see what different opportunities were out there,” said Horvat, an adjunct professor at Farmingdale State College and Stony Brook WISE alumna. “Even if just one student decided to open their mind to a career in STEM because of us, I think the day will have been a success.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story erroneously misstated the date of International Women’s Day. It is on March 8 not March 4.