Beyond ‘Berg: Women in STEM

New club on campus creates space for women in STEM

Caitlin Segarra '21, Alison Bashford '20 and Lindsay Helock '22 promote Women in STEM.

Allison Bashford ‘20 and the rest of the Women in STEM e-board waited at the front of Shankweiler 440s on Thursday, Jan. 23 for students to come to the first official club meeting. 

A few students trickled in, but the board waited to begin the meeting, hoping that more would come soon. A few minutes passed and, all of a sudden, the door swung open, and packs of students entered.

“I think lab just let out,” shouted a student already seated in the front row.

Once everyone settled in their seats, Bashford, the club president, began the meeting. “We think it is really important to foster some sort of community for women in STEM on campus … to have this group of people who can support one another and provide each other with resources, and our goal is really to create this community here at Muhlenberg.”

Many in the crowd showed their agreement by nodding their heads, waiting to hear what else the board had to say.

“While we have come a long way since the beginning of the century, we are still in a place where there needs to be forward action,” shared Bashford.

“You will start to notice when you go out on interviews and in the groups you walk into that you may be the only woman in the room, and we want to build a community so when you get out into the real world you know what to expect and how to tackle it and why you should.”

Calista Bender ‘20, vice president, explained to her audience that the population of women at Muhlenberg is over-represented and that there is a lot of support for women in STEM fields here, but that is not the reality outside of campus. 

“In the real world,” Bender said, “you will start to notice when you go out on interviews and in the groups you walk into that you may be the only woman in the room, and we want to build a community so when you get out into the real world you know what to expect and how to tackle it and why you should.”

This time, almost all the heads in the room nodded, feeling empowered by what they were hearing and the new community that was being formed before their eyes.

In order to start to build that community, more than 30 students split up into smaller groups, with some students whom they knew and others they did not, to share more about themselves and the reasons they joined the club.

Emma Mueller ‘22, a double major in neuroscience and theater, started her group off sharing that she joined “to find a community of people that know exactly what I am going through and can bond with me over everything I have gone through or will.” She explained that sometimes it is difficult going from a science class to a theater class, but this community will hopefully allow her to find others in this situation.

“To prove to the boys who told me that a girl should not be in an upper level math course.”

While almost everyone agreed, others added their own reasons: “I joined the club to meet new people.”

“When I saw the club at the activities fair, I was like, ‘Whoa, that’s a great idea, why hasn’t this existed before?’”

“I thought it was a great way to empower other women.”

“To prove to the boys who told me that a girl should not be in an upper level math course.”

The group spoke about their classes and the “trauma” they feel just for being in the room where their general chemistry workshop is. Despite being from different class years and majors in the STEM fields, everyone in the room bonded with the people in their groups.

When the group reconvened, everyone looked to the board as they shared with the club some of the goals that they hoped to achieve and the activities they planned to do this semester.  The board feels strongly about fostering a community and, aside from creating alliances with other campus clubs and building support from everyone within the STEM field, they want to host panel discussions with alumni and faculty to help members network, as well as get answers to many questions that they might have about being a woman across these disciplines.

While the whole room loved the ideas of panel discussions, the board also opened it up to the group to hear what ideas they might have. A lot of people suggested bonding nights, as well as creating different groups on social media where they could continue to network and connect throughout their time at Muhlenberg and even after graduation. 

The most popular idea, however, was to connect with young girls in the Lehigh Valley community and help them believe that they can also have a future in the STEM field. These women aim to be these young students’ role models and to show them that they can love science and math too.

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