Women are underrepresented in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). “Women account for only 26% of the workforce in the area of technology and computers,” according to a report by TechRepublic, a resource for IT professionals.
With the rising demand for STEM workers, educational institutions and industries are focused on closing the gender gap. Many universities, like Florida Polytechnic University, encourage and recognize women pursing careers in STEM fields. Florida Poly offers opportunities for mentoring, organizes events and supports networking for female students.
The following is an interview with two female Florida Poly students, Veronica Perez and Aubury Erickson, who offer their views on the benefits of a STEM education:
What are your thoughts on the gender gap in STEM?
- VERONICA: I believe that a lot of women traditionally have not been interested in STEM degrees, because they have not been exposed enough to the subjects, and aren’t aware of the opportunities they present. There are not a lot of women role models to influence girls and women to pursue a STEM degree. We hope that the Women in STEM Leadership Program at Florida Polytechnic University will be able to help change these statistics and bring diversity to STEM careers.
- AUBURY: I believe that the only way that this gender gap is going to be bridged is if both males and females take a stand against it. More women need to get involved in careers that are typically deemed “male” and vice versa. There are differences between the genders, and these differences should be noted. However, these gender stereotypes should neither be a disadvantage nor an advantage; everyone should be rewarded based on skill set and merit.
How did you gain an interest in STEM fields, and what industry do you want to pursue post graduation?
- VERONICA: My father owns a company that builds houses and works with architects. I thought that building a house was very cool, and I got interested in architecture. There are not a lot of architect universities, so I did more research and found that with an engineering degree, I would still be able to build things, but not be limited to just houses. My strongest subject is math, so I believe that I was meant to be an engineer. I grew up with three brothers, and they never told me I could not do their job, so I decided to pursue a mechanical engineering degree. I am very happy with my choice!
- AUBURY: My mom is the catalyst for my interest in STEM. I’ve always liked math and science, but never thought about a career in engineering until my mom encouraged me and introduced me to “Star Trek.” I watched the “Voyager” series and felt inspired.
Why is it important to get more students, including females, interested in STEM?
- VERONICA: We need more diversity in the STEM community. Having different perspectives on how to fix a problem is very useful. I read an article about a woman doing research on health issues affecting women, and since she had more experience about the female body, she was able to solve the problem.
- AUBURY: STEM is our future, and it is what will help save the environment, both human and non-human lives, and make everyone generally happier. More women need to get involved, so that the two genders can be more equal. Young girls should be empowered to do anything their hearts desire.
In what ways is Florida Poly bridging the gender gap in STEM?
- VERONICA: The Women in STEM Leadership Program has a mentoring program that is bringing young
female students to our campus and exposing them to technology through hands-on experiments
in physics, chemistry, math and biology. This experience helps girls learn more about
the world around them. We always talk to students afterward and ask them what they
Florida Poly and how the University can help them be successful.
- AUBURY: Although the girl-to-guy ratio in most every STEM school is extremely low, I feel accepted at Florida Poly. This school happily adapts to student needs, no matter the gender, which makes me feel welcomed.
Why did you choose to attend Florida Poly?
- VERONICA: I live ten minutes from the Florida Poly campus and saw the building process. I decided to schedule a tour and fell in love! I love STEM and the color purple, one of University’s colors. I also love the fact that the curriculum is full of challenging courses, because I know it will help me with my future career.
- AUBURY: Choosing Florida Poly was a no brainer. With the chance to be in the inaugural class and pursue an engineering major, I was sold. Not to mention the fact that it was local, beautiful and had great scholarships.
What do you enjoy about attending the University?
- VERONICA: I am a transfer student, and I like that fact that I have gained a lot of hands-on experience in my freshman year and do not have to take so many humanities and history courses, but can focus on math and science courses. Clubs are accessible and full of opportunities to practice, build projects and apply what I have learned so far in my courses.
- AUBURY: I enjoy the opportunities that the University provides. Since I am in the inaugural class and Florida Poly is brand new, we get to create clubs, get hands-on experience, and network a lot more often than at other universities.
What is the culture like at Florida Poly? In what ways can students get involved?
- VERONICA: I am in the inaugural class at Florida Poly, and our class has the power to build a beautiful community and culture! I work with Student Government, and was elected SGA president for the 2015-16 academic year, after serving in 2014-15 as secretary! I love that our students are making clubs and getting ready to participate in competitions and different events.
- AUBURY: Students can get involved in whatever way they like. There are clubs, programs and events that are led by students. If students don’t see a club that they like, they can make one.
What advice would you give to female students concerned about the gender disparities in STEM fields?
- VERONICA: Do not be afraid. There are a lot of female students at Florida Poly who are dedicated and open to helping you succeed.
- AUBURY: Don’t let it hinder you. The ONLY way the gender disparities are going to go away is if we make them go away. Follow the career path that you want, and never let anything stop you.
What projects are you working on at Florida Poly?
- VERONICA: I am part of the American Association of Mechanical Engineers, and we are working on Human-Powered Vehicle Competitions. I am also part of the Submarine Club, where I will remodel our Sea Wolf submarine in preparation for student competitions with other universities. There are other projects I might be helping with during the summer term. I am a co-founder of Florida Poly’s Student Government. SGA has helped in planning and organizing events at Florida Poly, as well as in building the structure that will be used for future SGA members.
- AUBURY: I am the treasurer for the University’s student chapter of the American Association of Mechanical Engineers, and I am involved in building a human-powered vehicle for competition. I am also heavily involved in the mentoring program through the Women in STEM Leadership Program (WISP), as the chair for the speaker committee. Currently, WISP is setting up a long-term mentoring program with local middle schools and possibly high schools to encourage girls to go into STEM fields and get students excited about science. I am on the student fee review committee for the University and help determine the budget of the University.