Encouraging women's success in STEM by example

Mar 04, 2019
Encouraging womens success in STEM by example
Assistant Professor Dr. Susan LeFrancois is committed to help female students succeed at Florida Polytechnic University. She also leads several outreach efforts to attract more girls into STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields.

Editor’s Note: This story is part of a series of feature stories highlighting female students and faculty as Florida Poly celebrates Women’s History Month.

Dr. Susan LeFrancois was one of the first faculty members at Florida Polytechnic University. She’s also an accomplished leader in industry having worked for almost a decade as the head of quality control and regulatory affairs at a gamma sterilizerin Mulberry, Florida. And, as a scientist and daughter of a chemist, she now has a clear mission: to inspire young women to believe that STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) can also be in their future.

“Our society promotes certain expectations regarding women’s roles,” said LeFrancois, who was born in Indiana but raised in Polk County, Florida. “So, people agree with it and move forward without questioning it.”

But LeFrancois does. Although she said she’s never felt defined by being a woman in STEM, she is aware of the gender imbalance that exists in the field. LeFrancois believes that exposing girls at an early age to achievements by women in science and technology can make a significant difference.

“In our history classes and in most of my science textbooks, there was hardly any mention of female scientists and their contributions,” said LeFrancois. “If you validate girls and give them STEM as a potential path, not just by saying ‘you can do it,’ but by presenting examples of women who have, it might make them realize that it is a real option.”

LeFrancois is committed to increasing the number of female students at Florida Poly. Two years ago she co-founded THRIVE, an effort run by faculty and staff to incorporate Florida Poly students, as well as middle and high school girls, in events that promote women leadership in STEM careers, and provide role models of successful women in the industry. The organization recently celebrated the International Day of Women and Girls in Science with an event on campus that involved four Polk County middle schools and several professionalengineer guest speakers.

“We want female students to feel like Florida Poly wants them to succeed. The University has put attention and resources into it,” said LeFrancois. “We’re creating a welcoming environment that is also empowering. We want girls to know that they’re wanted in STEM and that we have opportunities here.”

Many female students gravitate to LeFrancois and often approach her seeking support, advice, or simply to talk. And when it comes to the challenging courses they have to take at Florida Poly, LeFrancois is always there to listen to them and be an encouraging voice.

“If they express concern about their performance in classes, we discuss strategy and what they can do with the curriculum so they can still move forward, even if something is creating abarrierfor them,” she said.

LeFrancois believes barriers don’t exist for women in STEM, or in any field.

“Keep going. Don’t give up. Keep trying. If you feel that you’re good at something, whatever it is, don’t let anyone tell you you’re not,” she said.

“Now, know that if you go into a science or technology field, there will always be opportunity.”

Lydia Guzman
Assistant Director of Communications