UA Hosts Symposium for Women in STEM Fields

Across the technical fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, also known as STEM, there have been ongoing issues with the inclusion of women. To advocate the advancement of women in STEM fields, The University of Alabama is holding the Women in STEM Experience Symposium, or WiSE, Friday, March 3 and Saturday, March 4.

To be held at the Sellers Auditorium in the Bryant Conference Center, the symposium will work to bridge the STEM gender gap through a variety of networking and mentorship opportunities. The theme of the symposium is “Empowering You: The Future of STEM,” and this year’s keynote speaker is Dr. Mae C. Jemison, the first African American woman in space and the founder and president of The Jemison Group & BioSentient Corp.

“The gender disparity in STEM is a very complex and multifaceted problem, which needs to be addressed by different approaches and across all different age levels, starting with female students in elementary, middle, and high schools, up to women working in academia and industry,” said Dr. Claudia Mewes, associate professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy. “We need to change the perception of a female scientist in STEM and provide role models for young students to find their passion in STEM before they are discouraged by gender bias.”

According to the American Physical Society, over 60 percent of undergraduate biology majors are female, but women earn less than a fifth of all degrees given in engineering and physics. Overall, women comprise 48 percent of the national workforce, but only 24 percent of STEM practitioners are women.

“Being a faculty advisor of Women in Physics and a founder of Girls in Sciences, I am almost certain that nearly every female working in this field has experienced some form of gender bias,” Mewes said. “However, I personally think that any challenge can also be an opportunity.  During my time here at UA and in particular during the last couple of years there has been an increasing support by administration and networking organizations like WiSE, who are changing the overall climate and bringing us a step closer to bridging the gender gap.”

Admission to the 2017 WiSE symposium is free and open to all women working in or studying in STEM fields, along with men who support women in STEM. There will be a reception held at 5:30 pm at the Paul W. Bryant Museum on Friday, March 3.

“The WiSE initiative started in 2012 at the University of Alabama and has grown in its popularity and grown its fellowship ever since,” Mewes said. “Seeing the WiSE initiative moving forward and attracting more and more young attendees shows that the network is growing and speaks for itself regarding the success of the initiative.”

WiSE arose from UA’s Graduate School Tide Together initiative, which seeks to support women in STEM through mentorship and networking in hopes of narrowing the gender gap in STEM studies and careers. WiSE has become a stand-alone initiative with the support of multiple departments on campus. Through WiSE and Tide Together, women studying science and math-related fields are placed with both a graduate student and faculty mentor to help them develop skills in professionalism and in their field of study.

UA is a founding member of the National STEM Collaborative, a consortium of 12 higher-education institutions and 15 nonprofit partners seeking to advance the skills and resources for women of color in STEM.

The 2017 WiSE Symposium is hosted by the University’s Office for Academic Affairs, College of Arts and Sciences, College of Continuing Studies, College of Engineering, Graduate School, and Office of Vice President for Research and Economic Development. Dr. Viola Acoff, associate dean of the College of Engineering and Dr. Luoheng Han are co-coordinators for the symposium.