Advance hosts seminar to discuss challenges women face in STEM

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Story by Ashley Traylor, Staff writer

Murray State Advance will hold its first seminar Oct. 20 to discuss challenges women face in science and engineering. The program will host one seminar each semester for the next three years.

Joan Herbers, professor of evolution, ecology and organismal biology at Ohio State University, is the first speaker and will discuss gender equality in STEM fields.

The seminar is open to students, faculty and staff. Maeve McCarthy, mathematics professor and Advance program director, said Herbers will also have a workshop on work-life balance for female faculty.

“I’m hoping for a lot of education,” McCarthy said. “I think it’s an opportunity for a lot of faculty and students to come and hear about what’s going on, what the status of the field is right now and what changes have been made in the recent past and what changes are sort of in the pipeline for people to work with to move forward and to move the field forward.”

The next seminar will be in March and will focus on implicit bias.

Murray State received in May a grant from the National Science Foundation to study the recruitment and retention of female faculty in science-related fields.

The leaders of the grant are McCarthy; Paula Waddill, psychology professor and department chairwoman; Robin Zhang, professor and chair of geoscience; and Stephen Cobb, dean of the Jesse D. Jones College of Science and Engineering.

McCarthy said the team is studying data from the Institutional Research Office and Office of Institutional Diversity Equity and Access, developing surveys, interviewing faculty, hosting speakers and having peer mentoring groups for women in science.

McCarthy said their hypothesis is Murray State’s rural and agrarian location is adversely affecting retention of female faculty.

She said women leave science fields at higher rates than other fields and she wants to create a welcoming atmosphere for women in science at Murray State.  

“All of this is with the long-term vision of if there are more women faculty, then that’s more role models for our students and that helps students to be successful,” McCarthy said.

She said peer mentoring is open to faculty in sciences and they received an invitation to take part in the peer mentoring groups.

McCarthy said the groups will address tenure, promotion, work-life balance and gender issues in teaching evaluations, but participants can also discuss other challenges they are facing. She said 60 women are participating in the peer mentoring groups.

She said she is hopeful the program will make an inviting workplace for women and provide students with role models.

“The idea is that once a woman comes here to work, you want that woman to be successful and you want to provide that woman with the opportunities to be successful,” McCarthy said. “We are looking for ways to do that.”

Ashley Munie, senior biomedical science major from Breese, Illinois, said she thinks Murray State does a great job with who they hire and presenting female professors with opportunities to advance, but the university can always hire more women.

“If you see more women in career positions, then more younger women want to be those career women,” Munie said. “And so I think one of the things we can do as a society is just progress toward that. In each generation, if there are more women going into these hard science fields, then more girls will see that and continue that tradition.”

Alexandra Carney, senior engineering physics major from Paris, Tennessee, said she does not believe gender equality is a problem in her major, but it could be an issue in the workforce because women are underrepresented in engineering.

She said she also does not believe gender equality is a problem at Murray State. However, she said there are no female professors in her major and she said she thinks the university should work to recruit young women interested in STEM professions.

“I think that young women in STEM should be prepared to stand strong in their professions as in the workplace, we might face disrespect and mistreatment,” Carney said.