Museum of Science hosts Women in STEM

Museum of Science Women in STEM month
Women professionals in the STEM field spoke at a panel at the Museum of Science Thursday in an event hosted by the museum and Akamai Technologies. / Photo by Lauren Scornavacca

By Ava Sasani, news correspondent

November marks the 20th anniversary of Women in STEM Month at the Museum of Science, when the museum hosts events and panels featuring women currently working in fields such as engineering, technology, life sciences and science management.

The Museum partnered with Akamai Technologies, a Cambridge-based content delivery network and cloud services provider, to host a mentoring event Thursday for current and prospective female STEM majors.

The evening featured panels of current female STEM professionals, along with more informal networking time for college-aged women to meet one-on-one with women who have worked in their area of interest.

Bailey Ritchie, a second-year chemical engineering major at Northeastern, attended the event and said she feels that networking events geared specifically to women are useful in increasing female STEM representation.

“It was great to learn how you get your opinions across as a woman in science,” Ritchie said. “[The speakers] understood the feeling of being the only woman in the room.”

Annette Sawyer, vice president of education and enrichment, serves as the Museum of Science’s lead educator. She said she hopes the Museum’s annual Women in STEM Month will help bring female college and high school students into STEM professions.

“[They’ll] get the confidence and courage to ask questions,” Sawyer said. ”You have to fill the pipeline into STEM fields with women.”

That pipeline between universities and STEM professions is leaking, Sawyer said. She and the other organizers emphasized that even if the United States has made strides toward gender equity in STEM education, those gains have not translated to female representation in STEM professions.

This past March, the U.S. Department of Commerce found that women constitute slightly more than half of college educated workers, but make up only 25 percent of college educated STEM workers.

Christine Bellon, a former researcher at the K. Barry Sharpless laboratory, currently serves as the general counsel for Forma Therapeutics, a pharmaceutical company in nearby Watertown, Massachusetts. Bellon is a veteran of the Akamai program, having mentored female STEM majors for the past two years.

“You look around and you see a lot of STEM majors here, but as you rise through the ranks, those women start to disappear,” Bellon said.

Jaime Perkins has been with Akamai for three and a half years, recruiting college students for internship and co-op positions at the tech firm. She said she is hopeful the networking opportunities provided at the museum will improve gender equity in STEM fields.

“Especially when I see the high school students here, it’s a really awesome opportunity for them to see that there are plenty of women that are passionate about STEM,” Perkins said. “I think it’s really empowering for students to see that there’s a network and a support system and some sense of camaraderie.”

The event’s speakers and mentors both emphasized the importance of the community of past and present women working in STEM fields.

Beth Perkins, a mentor for girls studying science and management, currently works as an operations manager for Wayfair, an e-commerce company that sells home goods. She said she hopes the young women at the event will gain a newfound confidence from seeing the accomplished female panelists and STEM professionals.

“[Young women should] know that they belong in the sciences,” she said. “That women before them have paved the way in and can help them rise, too.”

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