Women in Science chapter started
It wasn’t that far back when a woman scientist — a rare breed until recently — had to walk a ways to find a bathroom in the workplace. For these intrepid pioneers, women mentors were few, and the water cooler whispering among male colleagues was often uncomplimentary.
Times have surely changed, said Gretchen Mullendore, an atmospheric scientist at the University of North Dakota and the faculty adviser for a new group on campus: “Women in Science.” Many barriers have fallen — sort of — and there’s less hostility toward women in the so-called STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) professions.
“There are indeed more women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics,” said Mullendore, who helped to launch Women in Science at UND. But, she cautioned, there still are many challenges, stereotypes and questions that impede young women’s choices regarding careers in those professions.
“Yes, we’ve made great progress, but many barriers remain and many of them are invisible,” Mullendore said.
A similar program is UND’s Society of Women Engineers (SWE), chartered in 1974 to inform young women, parents, counselors and the public of the qualifications and achievements of women engineers and the opportunities open to them. UND’s SWE student section has been honored four times as the best in the nation.
As noted in literature published by the national Association for Women in Science (AWIS), women in STEM professions, in both academy and industry, have had to overcome serious job discrimination, lower pay and professional isolation. AWIS and similar groups across the country have spent decades fighting for equity and career advancement for women “from the bench to the boardroom.”
“We envision a day when women of all ages will participate fully in science, technology, engineering and mathematics as manifested through equal opportunity, pay equity and recognition commensurate with their accomplishments,” AWIS says in its mission statement.
Mullendore, a severe storm and climate change researcher, sees Women in Science as a place where women can network and mentor and support each other in dealing with both general and specific issues relating to their professions, their careers and their personal goals and objectives.
Korey Southerland, a UND senior who’s a double major in environmental geography and political science and minor in math, said Women in Science at UND is first and foremost a student group. As the group’s first president, Southerland says men are welcome, too.
“I feel that, unfortunate as it is, men have designed society in accordance to early beliefs that men are superior to women,” she said. “This belief allowed men to create a world where they are treated better than women. However, I feel that it is both women and men who are responsible for solving this problem. We need the support of men to make the process of fighting for the proper place of women in society easier. We need to push the world to see that a woman’s potential to succeed at anything is the same as a man’s.”
A key goal of Women in Science is to encourage women to mentor each other.
“Mentoring is really all about having good discussions with people in your field, people who care about the same things that you do,” Mullendore said. “It’s about being able to share experiences so that you can know that other people have thought about these things, and maybe they’ve found some ways to deal with challenges that arise.”
Mentoring can mean many things in the context of Women in Science.
“It could be traditional career mentoring, but also can include work-life balance issues,” said Southerland, who plans to graduate next May and head to graduate school. “Another really big area in which young women could use mentoring is path finding, deciding who they want to be.”
Ultimately, Mullendore and Southerland say, it’s about sharing the journey.
“I’ve been interested for a long time in supporting women in science,” Mullendore said. “I want to share my own journey as a scientist, which is why, among many other reasons, I’m thrilled that there’s now UND Women in Science. Our main goal is providing a place where women can network across campus for mentoring and support.”
UND Women in Science is open to anyone interested in this opportunity to encourage women in STEM areas.
Juan Pedraza | Staff Writer