STEM writing workshop combats gender stereotypes

Nicole Ely/The News
Leah Good, graduate student from Martin, Tennessee, and Jessica Lugo, junior from Paducah, Kentucky, attended the STEM workshop last week.Nicole Ely/The News Leah Good, graduate student from Martin, Tennessee, and Jessica Lugo, junior from Paducah, Kentucky, attended the STEM workshop last week.

Story by Cody Hall, Contributing writer

Nicole Ely/The News Leah Good, graduate student from Martin, Tennessee, and Jessica Lugo, junior from Paducah, Kentucky, attended the STEM workshop last week.

Nicole Ely/The News
Leah Good, graduate student from Martin, Tennessee, and Jessica Lugo, junior from Paducah, Kentucky, attended the STEM workshop last week.

A group of six women met in the Clock Tower Conference room for a poetry writing workshop on Thursday Feb. 4 to let off some steam.

All of these women either taught or studied in STEM – science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

“We talk to women of all ages about being in STEM programs. The youngest we have talked to has been second graders,” said Constance Alexander, professor at Murray State who uses the arts to raise awareness of issues in the community. “Most women will lose interest in STEM by fourth grade, so we try to let them know to just do what feels right to them.”

At the workshop, Alexander spoke about the risks, rewards, stereotypes and successes associated with pursuing careers in fields traditionally dominated by men.  The women then had a chance to speak openly about their issues and personal experiences in the field.

The workshop is based on the writing of those who attend, both students and professors. Alexander prompted them to write a 16-word poem, letting them simplify their thoughts and ideas into a precise package.  With writer consent, many of these will be displayed at this year’s annual women’s luncheon on March 14.

“When I was studying mathematics, people would assume I wanted to be a kindergarten teacher with my degree, as if that is all a woman with a degree in mathematics can do,” said Elizabeth Donovan, mathematics professor.

“Being a woman in a STEM field, you have to become very good at selling yourself at what you do,” she said.

Alexander received a $2,000 grant from the Kentucky Foundation for Women’s 30-year anniversary, titled “Gender Equality: I will know it when I see it.”  The grant could only be given to someone who had already received a grant through the foundation in the past.  She used the money to start hosting these workshops.

With the help of Jody Cofer Randall, LGBT program coordinator, and Abigail French, director of the Women’s Center, they were able to cover many different groups with these workshops.

“When Constance approached me with this idea, knowing the work she has done in the past, it sounded great,” Cofer Randall said. “These workshops have been great for students to be able to openly talk about issues that they face through writing.”

“Through Constance’s workshop they have been able to put their feelings into words,” she said. “For many people, they have been eye-opening experiences.”

Alexander, Cofer Randall and French said they hope to continue the workshops in semesters to come if they can find the funding.  They currently have enough to host one more for athletes on campus, primarily women.  They do not have a date for this final workshop yet, but it will be before the women’s luncheon so the writings can be displayed.