Women in STEM: Inspiring leaders in science, technology, engineering & mathematics

 

According to statistics from the National Science Foundation (NSF), women remain underrepresented in the workforce in the areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). Though half of the college-educated workforce in the U.S. is female, women only account for 28% of the workforce employed in science and engineering.

In higher education, the number of women taking STEM courses and pursuing degrees in scientific fields is increasing, but overall in the U.S. programs like computer sciences and engineering are overwhelmingly male-dominated, according to the NSF.

At UNG, a number of faculty, staff, alumnae, and students who are successful in the field are actively mentoring and encouraging students and other women in STEM. As the beginning of an occasional series to be shared through UNG’s Where I Lead website, UNG Magazine profiles eight inspiring Women in STEM.

Dr. Allison Bailey

Associate professor of environmental studies and geography in the Lewis F. Rogers Institute for Environmental and Spatial Analysis (IESA)
Dr. Bailey outside

 

Dr. Allison Bailey knows the struggles of succeeding as a professional in the male-dominated industry, and she has become a member of an organization geared toward helping similar faculty improve and succeed as a TRELIS fellow, an NSF-funded professional development program for women in the geospatial sciences in higher education.

TRELIS awarded her a grant to conduct a professional development workshop for women in the geosciences in Georgia, and she collaborated with professors from the University of Georgia and Valdosta State University to facilitate the one-day workshop during the fall 2018 semester.

“I was really honored to receive this,” Bailey said, explaining she attended a three-day conference in Madison, Wisconsin, that helped her evaluate her professional life and choices. “I figured out what I wanted for my career and how to make decisions to lead me in the direction I want to go.”

Bailey chairs the Georgia Geospatial Technical Advisory Committee, which provides guidance on standards for geospatial data used by government agencies and industries statewide. She chairs the Education Committee for Georgia URISA, the state professional association for geospatial sciences, and coordinates the Georgia K-12 geospatial competition.

Jessica Hamilton

Undergraduate student pursuing a degree in physics
Jessica Hamilton

 

For some, “staring into space” is a figure of speech, but for 31-year-old Jessica Hamilton, it has a literal meaning. She is studying starspots, which are caused by magnetic fields. Her research on the topic with a fellow physics major led to a presentation at the 20th Cambridge Workshop on Cool Stars, Stellar Systems and the Sun in Boston.

That experience helped Hamilton stand out among applicants to earn an internship at a prestigious German research institute. She was one of 300 international students selected for the RISE

scholarship from more than 1,900 who applied. Hamilton interned at the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research in Göttingen, Germany.

“The internship at the Max Planck Institute expanded my cultural horizons, my international contacts, and my base knowledge in the realm of astrophysics,” said Hamilton, who lives in Dahlonega, Georgia, with her 5-year-old daughter. “I returned from the experience with a greater knowledge of what sub-field I want to focus on for my career path and what it will entail.”

Dr. Katayoun Mobasher

Professor of geology in the Lewis F. Rogers Institute for Environmental and Spatial Analysis (IESA) and geosciences coordinator

 

Dr. Katayoun Mobasher, who began her academic career in 2001 as a teaching assistant at Georgia State University, has been with UNG for more than 11 years. She believes geology is a key part of life and works to provide an innovative learning experience for her students.

“Every day we hear about some aspect of geology in the news – such as earthquake activities, volcanic eruptions, oil supplies, threats from landslides, and water supply contaminations,” she said. “I hope my students gain an appreciation of geology around them and learn how earth processes and materials affect our lives and the ways humans affect the Earth. I want them to understand that we must be responsible for the Earth and its continuous growth and sustainability.”

Mobasher, who is interested in interdisciplinary studies that combine her various areas of expertise, enjoys both the challenges and rewards of finding new ways to teach. She’s developed new methods and activities to keep her students engaged, including through use of technology in the classroom and the field. She also figured out how to teach a very visual concept – topographical maps – to a visually impaired student by working with colleagues to create tactile maps.

Mobasher is also very active in the community often providing presentations and speaking engagements to local organizations such as the Elachee Nature Science Center, the Atlanta Geological Society, U.S. Geological Survey, and the Gainesville Newcomers Group.

Dr. Linda Purvis

Assistant professor of biology/poultry science, alumna
Dr. Purvis with her chickens

 

Dr. Linda Purvis, ’00, who grew up on a poultry farm, decided in eighth or ninth grade she wanted to study poultry science. After earning three degrees in the field, she returned in 2011 to then-Gainesville State College where she earned her associate degree years prior. She had a specific task in mind: to rebuild from scratch a poultry science program that had not been taught in more than a decade.

“I had a chicken skeleton. That was about it. No resources, no textbooks, nothing,” she said. “I wanted to build that program back up, and the biology department here was very encouraging and wanted that to happen.”

Through her connections with the University of

Georgia’s poultry program and relationships she formed with the poultry industry, Purvis acquired funding, including grants and scholarships, to make the poultry science program a reality. UNG offers an Associate of Science in Core Curriculum with pathway courses related to agriculturepoultry science that is a perfect fit for students who seek to go into the industry or business-related careers in agriculture. Classes in the program include accounting, economics, microbiology, and multiple courses related to poultry production and evaluation.

“I’m really passionate about helping students figure out what they’re really good at and helping them find a job and a career that will fit that,” Purvis said.

Dr. Miriam Segura-Totten

Professor of biology, Harry B. Forester Eminent Scholars Chair
Dr. Segura

 

As a high school student in Puerto Rico, Miriam Segura-Totten thought she would attend a college on the island after graduation. Her mother, however, had different ideas and encouraged her to apply to schools located on the U.S. mainland.

“I got into Princeton University. I chose to attend there because it had a good community of Puerto Ricans. It was beautiful and looked like nowhere that I had been before,” she said.

While many postgraduates go into research fields, Segura-Totten veered into academe. She wanted to

mentor and inspire students, just like she was.

“Mentoring students is having those conversations … about finding their passions and pursuing them,” she said.

Segura-Totten has succeeded there. In 2017, she won an Inspiring Leaders in STEM award from INSIGHT Into Diversity magazine. The award is based on a professor’s efforts to inspire and encourage a new generation of young people to consider careers in STEM through mentoring, teaching, research, and successful programs and initiatives.

Dr. Dianna Spence

Head of Department of Mathematics, professor of mathematics
Dr. Spence

 

Dianna Spence turned a weakness in the area of mathematics into a strength and then a passion through the support of her mother and a number of mentors. Spence’s learning specialist mother discovered through a series of tests that young Dianna was not strong in math and set out to increase her skills through drills and games. Spence later found high school math came easy and she was asked to tutor her fellow students.

Always interested in becoming a teacher, Spence initially taught computer science after college and then spent some time working in the computer industry as a software engineer at a time when few were women and customers weren’t used to that.

While Spence said respect for women in STEM has progressed, she seeks to support her fellow female faculty and female students by sharing her experiences and the advice of her mentors.

“I told my grad school professor, whose main field of research was self-efficacy, that I had a little bit of that ‘impostor syndrome’ because I was in the class with all of these really smart people and I wasn’t sure I was one of them,” Spence said. “He told me, ‘Everybody feels that way. That’s how everyone who gets to that level of success feels.’ He was very clear to me about how I needed to ignore that and just push through.”

 

Emily Storck

Undergraduate student pursuing a chemistry degree
Emily Sotrck standing in front of a brick wall

 

As Emily Storck transitioned from dual enrollment, a program that allows eligible high school students to take college courses tuition-free and earn high school and college credit, to attending UNG as a regular student she knew she needed a way to cover the costs. The S-STEM Scholars program provided the answer.

“It has allowed me to work fewer jobs outside of school and focus more on getting the grades needed to get into graduate school, and different experiences that also help such as working as a teaching assistant for the chemistry department and doing research for multiple semesters,” Storck said.

Funded at UNG through the NSF, the program aims

to increase the STEM workforce. The competitive scholarship provides annual $4,362 stipends to each student in the program, plus additional funds to support their research.

Storck said the program has opened doors for research, conferences and graduate school. The senior from Buford, Georgia, pursuing a degree in chemistry got an earlier start on her research than most students thanks to S-STEM. Her research seeks to improve chemistry labs for UNG students.

Storck also was selected for an NSF Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) to research light and matter with a Florida State University faculty member for 10 weeks.