Dear Sheila Jaswal,
We hope this letter finds you well. We wanted to thank you so much for coming to speak at our DiversiTea event at Yale. We are incredibly grateful for the time you took to visit New Haven and the honesty and care you put into all of your discussions with us and the other students. It was an inspiring moment of cross-collegiate unity in a joint mission to promote diversity within the STEM fields and to make the STEM environment more welcoming to all students. It also provided us with a valuable look into the Amherst College environment and the ways that we can make our own college environment similarly welcoming. Because of your visit our Physics Department has started its own course called Being Human in STEM, modeled on the course you and your students created. You’ve not only helped to spark meaningful discussions but you’ve also helped us to enact real change in our STEM classes. DiversiTea is in its inaugural year and it is an organization at Yale that bridges the undergraduates, the graduate students, faculty, and staff in its mission to promote diversity within the STEM fields. As such we also wanted to thank you for inspiring us with your own dedication to issues of diversity within your STEM career, both in the classroom and in the lab.
Thanks again for coming to speak with us and for helping us improve our own Yale STEM environment.
Hello Everyone! My name is Felix German Contreras-Castro, a Black Studies Major with a Pre-Med focus at Amherst College. I will be sharing my experience at Yale’s DiversTea – a daylong event promoting diversity and inclusion in the STEM field. I’ll start off with the wonderful ride I shared with Dr. Jaswal to New Haven. Before arriving to Amherst College (Community College Transfer Student), I had never met a STEM professor of color. As we drove to CT, I clearly saw the importance of having mentors that share similar backgrounds. Dr. Jaswal is in a special position for students like myself. As a Queer Woman of Color in STEM, one can only imagine the many obstacles she surmounted. Her plethora of experiences allows her to present genuine and thoughtful advice that a Queer Black Man can apply to his life.
As we arrived to New Haven, we were greeted by Yale students and went straight to business. I was not surprised that Yale’s STEM dilemma is similar to ours in Amherst. My experiences at Amherst have been very challenging, and at times discouraging, which seems to have resonated well with Yale students. In sum, Students of Color—especially from disadvantaged backgrounds—are left behind in STEM. There is not one objective solution because it varies from student to student.
My experience is not unusual. I had no idea what I was getting myself into when I registered for physics at Amherst College. I was perplexed by how an introductory course could be taught with such haste. Furthermore, it is disheartening to know that many of my colleagues found this course to be a review. This explains the unexpected lightning pace of the course. My performance forced me to withdraw and reconsider an alternative path to medicine. Yale students’ continuous head nods hinted that they too have faced this sort of challenge. Accepting failure after giving it your all can force anyone to an alternative career path. We have to have been the brightest of the bunch to gain admittance to institutions like Amherst and Yale. Institutions like Amherst and Yale have the audacity to boast on their diverse student body, but fail to provide the services for such a vibrant community. Not all of us hail from affluent families that can provide a rich preparatory education for elite colleges. I have depended on Google for the majority of my life as I sat in my family’s living room studying for hours while juggling jobs, and extra-curriculars, with no mentorship or guidance.
There are few points that I would love my reader to take away from this blog. First, STEM is field where cultural understanding must be included in order to have the vibrant diversity we aim for. Second, students from disadvantaged backgrounds—especially in elite colleges—want to do well in STEM…many of us just do not know how. Third, if a professor gives up on a student, there is high probability the student will give up on himself or herself. Lastly, everyone has the potential to be a STEM person. If you do not believe this notion than you are part of the problem why so many students from disadvantaged backgrounds opt out of STEM.
We have been asked to be a part of a digital story telling project at this year’s Women of Color STEM Entrepreneurship Conference at Arizona State University on May 20-May 22. The Women of Color STEM Entrepreneurship Conference “is a collaborative effort to advocate for increased participation of women of color in entrepreneurship experiences and small business enterprise; to advance entrepreneurship education and entrepreneurial student engagement; and to transform the ways that entrepreneurship is viewed, taught and experienced in higher education.”
This year’s theme is The New Normal: Women of Color Innovations and Achievements through STEM Entrepreneurship, with guest speakers Dr. Aprille Ericsson-Jackson a NASA Aerospace Engineer, Sandra Begay-Campbell from Indian Energy Program Lead and Sandia National Laboratories, Angeles Valenciano the CEO of the National Diversity Council, Sharon M. Wong who is the Acting Director of Office of Personnel Management’s Office of Diversity & Inclusion, and Jaime Casap the Chief Education Evangelist at Google. The conference will be made up of speakers, workshops, and networking opportunities and is open to anyone with a passion in advocating for opportunities for women and girls of color in STEM and entrepreneurship opportunities.
We will be conducting video interviews capturing the story of resilience and persistence of these successful women of color through the STEM pipeline. These will eventually be accessible on our website to provide inspiration and role models for those at various stages in STEM.
For more information on the conference, go to: https://cgest.asu.edu
This past Tuesday, members of our Outreach and Resource coordination group held a "Post-Stem Dinner" on campus. In a closed, intimate setting, we spoke to fellow Amherst students about their experiences studying STEM at the College--and, more importantly still, about their decision to ultimately choose other fields of study instead. We are particularly aware that we have a lot to learn about improving the STEM experience from students who are no longer engaged with STEM at Amherst.
The resulting conversation was incredibly illuminating, and we can't wait to share our insights with you soon. In the meantime, we've posted some of the photographs of some post-STEM students who shared their stories with us.
On April 1st, 2016, we presented our work in a panel at Amherst Explorations: A Celebration of Student Research and Creative Work.
You can see a video of us talking about the HSTEM course here.
Come meet the real-live people behind this website! We'll be holding a panel as part of Amherst Explorations, an event hosted by the Amherst College Writing Center that aims to highlight student research and creative work. The details are included below:
Friday, April 1st, 2016 at 3:30 PM
Robert Frost Library, Amherst College
A panel exploring our research and findings halfway through the semester. Refreshments will be provided as well!
All this information can also be found at the Facebook event page. Please feel free to invite your friends!
Gaby Mayer '16
As a woman (not to mention a feminist), I spend a lot of time thinking about what it means to be female: as a scientist, as a college student, as a so-called “millennial,” and as a consumer of contemporary art and culture. Curiously, however, I haven’t truly contemplated what it means to be a woman at Amherst College, the place I’ve called home for nearly four years. To call me “willfully ignorant” would be an understatement; after all, Amherst is an institution with a rich and complex history around gender. The College was founded in 1821 as an all-male school, only making the shift to a co-ed student body in 1979 (to put this into historical perspective: Oberlin College has admitted both men and women since 1833). It’s been roughly forty years since this momentous change, and yet the physical vestiges of our male-dominated past still litter the campus––from the profusion of male portraits in its central gathering space, Johnson Chapel, to the distribution of its plumbing. This is further complicated by our membership within the Five College Consortium, a group that includes two women's colleges–one the oldest in the nation, the other the largest–among its ranks. Stated simply, the Pioneer Valley is a place where gender has always mattered.
Luckily, this past Tuesday, I stumbled into a conversation series titled “Six Talks to Change The World: Pioneer Faculty Women." This event name is, admittedly, a bit flashy–all the better to lure tired, busy undergrads out of the library on a weekday evening. Yet despite my aversion to hyperbole, I believe the title “pioneers” is justly bestowed here.
Ruth Manzanares '18
Last Saturday, I was extremely fortunate to go to the Latino Medical Student Association 43rd Annual Northeast Conference at Dartmouth. This conference is open to high school students interested in medicine, undergraduate pre-med students, and medical students. Some of the schools that form part of the Northeast chapters are Yale, Harvard, Dartmouth, and NYU, among other medical schools. (The Northeast chapter of LMSA has yet to include undergraduates.) The conference was a day long event made up of several key speakers and workshops that not only explored navigating the medical field as an underrepresented minority, but also the implications of being a Latinx individual in the medical world. Such topics included public health, undocumented Latinx that do not have insurance, politics in the medical world, and what is being done to try and change it to accommodate to the increasing number of Latinx in America. It was an extremely validating to experience and hear all the different success stories of young Latinx students who, despite all their trials and tribulations, were able to make it to medical school in the end.
Our Tuesday meeting last week largely focused on a paper, “Female peers in small work groups enhance women’s motivation, verbal participation, and career aspirations in engineering” authored by Dasgupta, et al. Dasgupta, a professor in the department of Psychological and Brain Sciences next door to us at UMass Amherst, emphasized the nationwide need to increase the representation of women in STEM fields, pointing out that although the scarcity of women in these fields is widely recognized, few data-driven solutions are offered.