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OLSH Women in STEM Panel Discussion

The OLSH Alumni Networking & Career Services committee kicked off their speaker series on Tuesday night with the virtual OLSH Women in STEM Panel Discussion. Alumni, students, and parents were joined by seven female alumni with varying careers and years of experience in the STEM field.

Panelists included:

Emilee Renk ’09, a Technical Sales Representative in industrial manufacturing at Lintech International

Natalie Rozman ’14, a PH.D. Candidate in Electrical & Computer Engineering at Duke University

Claudia (Bonchak) Lewis '72, a retired Aerospace Materials and Process Engineer

Angela Verdoni ’00, a Clinical Laboratory Genetics and Genomics Fellow at the University of Pittsburgh

Felicia Cianciarulo, Ph.D. ’80, a Professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Carlow University

Lucy (Spardy) Oremland ’01, an Assistant Professor of Math & Statistics at Skidmore College

Jacilyn (Wilkins) Maher ’93, an ISS Safety Review Panel Chair at the NASA Johnson Space Center

The panelists took turns introducing themselves to attendees by detailing their education, job experience, and professional or personal activities and hobbies. Their impressive accomplishments throughout college and their careers were inspiring to the audience. Felicia Cianciarulo ‘80 then gave a brief presentation about the statistics of women in STEM. With the acceleration of technological advances, STEM professionals are the most sought-after by employers. Women make up nearly half of the U.S. workforce, and yet they represent only 27% of STEM employees. Though this is an improvement upon the 8% of women in STEM in 1970, there is still work to be done to close that gap. Thus became the goal of the evening: Encourage women to pursue careers in STEM.

Panelists were asked a series of questions, either previously submitted by attendees or asked on the spot.

“Go for it,” was Claudia Lewis ‘72’s response when asked for words of wisdom for young women interested in the male-dominated field. “Don’t let it intimidate you. There are more and more women entering the field and being selected for jobs in STEM – one day it really will be 50/50,” Jacilyn Maher ’93 added.

Panelists addressed ways to overcome challenges and forge your way in the STEM world. “It can be a lot of work to get people to take you seriously, even though you might be the most qualified person in the room. It helps to have a mentor to talk to and help you navigate those situations,” said Emilee Renk ’09. This became a topic throughout the night. A good mentor (or group of mentors) can not only help you get on your way in STEM, but can also help to push you and further you throughout your career.

“Everybody has imposter syndrome. It can be challenging to be the only woman in a room or to feel like you don’t fit in, but you deserve to be there. Work hard and find people to support you when you’re struggling with that feeling,” said Lucy Oremland ’01. “You’re at a level playing field with your colleagues. You don’t need to have imposter syndrome,” Felicia added.  As professors, Lucy and Felicia understand that people want to be there for you but don’t know how to help unless you reach out to them, so don’t be afraid to ask a lot of questions early on in your STEM path and to ask for the support that you need.

Angela Verdoni ‘00 encouraged anyone interested in the field to identify people that they admire and strive to be more like them. She mentioned the struggle of being in competition with peers who may not want to see you succeed – but building up confidence in yourself and having that trustworthy mentor can help you to overcome that challenge. “A mentor can be somebody in a senior position or a professor, but it can also be an upperclassman just a year or so older than you. They don’t have to be in a position of power to be able to help and support you,” said Natalie Rozman ’14.

Panelists found mentors in friends and colleagues, but some even found mentors in OLSH faculty, like Sr. Pulcheria, Mr. Mihaloew, and Mrs. R-T. Words of encouragement from teachers that they looked up and a personalized learning experience in smaller classrooms helped to set these women up for success, and succeed they did!

So, what should a woman interested in a STEM career do to succeed? The panelists agree: Choose a college with a strong STEM program, be proactive in networking and asking questions, don’t limit yourself, form connections with people you look up to, and just GO FOR IT.

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