Women in STEM share their stories

Updated: Apr 8, 2019

The school hosted a STEM panel of female professionals who talked about their journeys while making it through the industry.

By Gabriel Arizon, Co-Editor-in-Chief

The Valley Star/Gabriel Arizon

A group of women who made their careers in the STEM field gathered in a Q&A on Feb. 21 to speak out about their difficulties and deliver advice.

Promoting Awareness of STEM Opportunities (PASO) held the “Women in STEM Panel” in Monarch Hall, giving students the chance to hear the backgrounds of female professionals in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields. The panel consisted of nine women, whose careers ranged from web developers to structural engineers.

“I’m the first member of my family to have a bachelor’s degree,” data engineer Marie Antoinette Cruz said. “When I was in college, I met an Indian professor with a Ph.D. in astrophysics, and she was a huge inspiration to me.”

“I was a student-athlete in college, but I got into an accident,” said Brittani Clark, a pediatric nurse practitioner. “But being in the hospital, I was convinced to switch to nursing.”

According to a report by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were approximately 8.6 million STEM jobs in 2015, making up 6.2 percent of the total workforce. Forty-five percent of those jobs were computer occupations, with seven out of the 10 largest STEM jobs being computer related, including application software developers and computer user support specialists.

Despite the high numbers, however, women only accounted for 14.9 percent of those jobs in 2013, according to a study by the National Science Board. In all science and engineering occupations, women accounted for a total of 29 percent. This disparity was not lost on the women in the panel, who recounted their experience in working in male-orientated fields.

Eva Zheng, a board of directors member of Hacker Fund — a non-profit incubator for charitable, educational and scientific projects — said, “I would have men ask me what I do and I would say programming. They would look at me and say, no but what do you do.”

Cindy Malone — director of a California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) project — said, “It’s still an old boy’s club, and I made plenty of enemies.”

Despite facing their own setbacks, the panelists conveyed to the attendees that failure does not mean you need to give up.

“Being a minority in STEM fields right now is actually really cool,” Zheng said, “and people really want to support minorities. Either there are scholarships … or people give you a special route so that you don’t get so influenced by culture that you drop out.”

“I failed my first Ph.D. examination,” said Farisa Morales, a research scientist for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “I had to wait a whole year to try again, and you can only try to take it twice.”

After the panel, attendees were given time to speak with the panelists in a more one-on-one setting. Director of PASO Luz Shin was very pleased with the overall reception of the panel.

“My goal was for community college students to see that failure is okay,” Shin said. “Success of professionals, especially women who have done it, can tell their story and inspire us.”

“It was very interesting to hear about science in terms of a female perspective and what challenges they have navigating through STEM fields,” nursing major Stephany Gonzalez said. “Being a woman, it’s very different, it changes your experiences in whatever field you go into.”