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Scientista aims to bridge gap between women and men in STEM

The students of Oklahoma Christian University’s Scientista Foundation chapter encourage students of both genders to participate in their empowerment of women amidst their current position in the STEM workforce.

Originating at Harvard University and since expanding to more than 40 chapters nationwide, junior mechanical engineering student Jenna Lippe and senior biology student Jan Bian are the co-directors for Oklahoma Christian’s Scientista chapter this year.

Scientista works to support and empower undergraduate women who are studying STEM fields, as well as encourage more women to enter STEM careers, because, according to Bian, the gender gap, though improving, it is still present.

“[Women] face unique challenges both in the classroom and in the workplace,” Bian said. “Even though representation for women in college has become equivalent to men, the number of women majoring in STEM fields is still drastically lower than men, and the number of women enrolling in graduate STEM education is fewer still. Our goal is to improve retention of women in STEM at the undergraduate level through mentorship, education and support.”

According to the U.S Department of Commerce, while women hold 50 percent of jobs in the U.S., only 25 percent of those jobs are in STEM fields. Scientista works to prevent this by providing support and encouragement to women who want to go into STEM fields.

“Upperclassmen can provide mentorship and advice for how to deal with these issues,” Bian said. “A unique challenge that women in STEM often face is that they are not taken as seriously, both in the classroom and in the workplace, as men. These micro-aggressions can cause women to feel like they cannot succeed in STEM fields.”

Lippe said gender inequality in STEM fields was something she dealt with firsthand at her internship this summer.

“I worked in manufacturing, which is very much a ‘guy’s world,’” Lippe said. “I worked on a plant and people would treat me different than the other guy interns. My boss actually even said inappropriate things to me, because I am a woman. There were great people who helped me, though. The person in charge of all of the interns was actually a female electrical engineer. She taught me how to walk into plants and assert my dominance without being rude. To do this, I had to almost overcompensate in certain areas and act a different way to be taken seriously.”

Lippe said her teachers growing up were the most influential in her decision to choose a STEM career, as well as inadvertently preparing her for experiences like this summer.

“My fourth-grade teacher had all of the girls who were in accelerated math, all six out of 100 students, attend a math tutoring program before school and make it fun,” Lippe said. “I had amazing teachers. I think if I had not grown up in the environment that I did, I would not have done engineering.”

Scientista officer and sophomore cellular and molecular biology student Hadley LaMascus said encouraging women in STEM is important to him, because his mother is a physician. He said men in these fields should seek to be an encouragement to women who are in those fields with them.

“Very few people are going to come out and say, ‘You shouldn’t do this,’” LaMascus said. “But there is this implicit social structure where guys are more accepted and have an easier role in a lot of their classes. Supporting and telling [women], ‘Yes, you can. Yes, this is your place. Yes, you should be there. You are smart, intelligent and ready to take on all of the same types of challenges,’ is really important.”

Scientista hosts several events throughout the school year, including informational and discussion-based meetings, as well as social events where members can get to know one another as a way to build a support system.

The organization will host its first science fair in the spring for students in elementary school through high school, as a way to invite local schools to come and participate and to encourage students with an interest in STEM fields. LaMascus said students should get involved with Scientista, because it is beneficial not only for women but for creating a better classroom and work environment for everyone.

“It is a good thing to support women in STEM,” LaMascus said. “It is not just women supporting other women. It is also for guys to be supportive, be cooperative and recognize that, whenever they look around in their programming class and they see two girls out of 15, they need to be supportive and caring and not just shun those individuals because they are different than the male majority. Join Scientista and come to events, because it is a lot of fun and it is an important cause.”

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