Women in STEM encourage girls to join the field

State Hornet Staff

In honor of International Women’s Day, on Tuesday, March 8, the Sacramento State Women’s Resource Center and Multi-Cultural Center held a “Women in STEM” panel discussion.

The discussion, held in the Multi-Cultural Center, featured five panelists from a wide range of backgrounds. The event highlighted the following notable women in STEM: Elizabeth Derock, a mechanic majoring in mechanical engineering; Erryn Rivers, a psychology major who works in the Student Tech Center; Teagan Widmer, a software engineer from San Francisco; Susan Holl, the materials science department chair; and Cui Zhang, the department chair of the computer science department.

A wide range of topics, from how the women got their starts in STEM fields to how to immerse young girls in the world of science, were broached.

“As a kid, technology always interested me,” Widmer said. “So technology always kind of grabbed ahold of me. I remember thinking … I really enjoy computers, but you [had] to be good at math and take calculus and all this stuff … to get into a program to play with computers, and I was never really good at that at all.”

Widmer expressed that it is never to late for women, or any gender for that matter, to pursue their passions.

“It wasn’t until long after I got my masters in fine arts and theater … a friend of mine sat me down in a bar in San Francisco and asked me a trivia question and then looked at me and said, ‘You need to learn how to program.’ So I did; that was the real spark that led me into my career,” Widmer said.

The discussion, lead by Lorenzo Smith, also tackled the topic of fear potentially holding women back from pursuing careers in STEM fields.

“I wouldn’t have ever said that there was anything that made me fearful, because I was always able to create a support network, people that I could go to,” Holl said. “And I think that’s a real strength of being female in this society.”

Zhang also contributed her own input about fear to the panel.

“First off, I’m a computer scientist, but for students I’m one of the role models,” Zhang said. “Which means if I do a good job [and] give them a good example, they can do it too.”

The women on the panel also talked about encouraging and inspiring future generations of women to enter STEM fields and what supportive figures in a young woman’s life can do to foster positive STEM experiences.

“It’s about identifying and encouraging passion,” Widmer said. “If you see your daughter get excited about something, you don’t have to push her to it, but …applaud her for that. If she identifies good feelings with her investigative mind that she has, that’s going to help her.”