Women in STEM panel discussion held at RUC
In recognition and celebration of Women’s History Month, a panel discussion featuring female educators and leaders in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) was held at Radford University Carilion (RUC) on March 3.
Moderated by Associate Professor of English Courtney Watson, Ph.D., the panel featured Associate Provost for Health Sciences Teresa Conner, Ph.D., as well as Diana Willeman-Buckelew, Ph.D., chair, Department of Public Health and Healthcare Leadership; Robin Davies, Ph.D., professor of biology; Jeannine Everhart, Ph.D., program director and assistant professor of health sciences; and Sara Reed Houser, M.S., assistant professor of biology.
The focus of the discussion was on the panel members’ experiences, while pursuing STEM careers.
“I knew from the time I was in elementary school that I wanted to be a scientist,” said Willeman-Buckelew. “I was lucky that my parents and teachers supported my goals. No one in my family had gone to college, and none of my peers were pursuing STEM careers. But, my parents and my teachers encouraged me to strive higher.”
Fellow panelists echoed Willeman-Buckelew’s memories, saying that their families were often the impetus in pursuing their education and careers.
“My parents bought me both a microscope and a chemistry set,” Davies recalled. “I had an excellent group of teachers throughout middle and high school, but it was my high school chemistry course that captured my imagination. I loved how it explained things and how there was an objective truth out there for someone to discover.”
Many of the panelists recalled how their career journey has been characterized by hard work, dedication and studying in fields that were traditionally reserved for men. That path was not always easiest to follow, according to the panelists.
“I don’t think my story is terribly different from these amazing women,” said Conner. “I come out of the coalfields of southern West Virginia, where your career options were limited. Or, you could marry a coal miner. I wasn’t interested in those options. There wasn’t a set long-term plan, but a lot of thought and hard work in the moment led to where I am today.”
Watson asked the panel about whether they had experienced difficulties entering and performing in STEM fields as women.
“I began my education as an engineering major with two women in the entire class,” said Everhart. “On the first day, the professor said women should not be engineers. Looking back, I’m horrified to think about what it was like. I wouldn’t want young women to go through that. The good news is things have changed significantly, and there is much more acceptance of women in STEM fields.”
Houser added, “I battled and I struggled, but there was no way I was going to let any of the critics get the best of me.”
The panel agreed that the journey toward a STEM career is much less fraught with obstacles today than when they were in school and beginning their career.
“Today, it’s more a matter of whether you have the skills and the motivation, and they don’t care about your gender,” Everhart said. “Employers have positions to fill, and the biases that used to keep women out of these prestigious and fulfilling careers have been put to rest. It’s a much different and better world for women entering STEM careers today.”
Conner agreed, saying, “I want young women, who are in STEM programs, to know that the future is bright, and the world is open to them. The path to your future career is only limited by your own dedication and willingness to work hard. You can do anything, as the women on this panel have demonstrated.”