Women in STEM panel comes to SIUE

The fields of science, technology, mathematics and engineering are often thought of as male-dominated, so three female STEM graduates visited campus Monday to talk to students about their experiences in the workforce.

Two of the panelists — Ashley Wilkerson and Alison Okeke — are graduates of SIUE, while the third — Katie Troll — went to the University of Missouri Science and Technology.

The panel was hosted by the Joint Engineering Student Council and the Society of Women Engineers, and organized by senior mechanical engineering major Holly Liebel, of Liberty, Missouri, and Crishawnna Nash, a senior computer science major from Peoria, Illinois.

Liebel said that during her time at Missouri S&T, women in STEM events were common on campus, and often had representatives from a particular field or company rather than an assortment of women in STEM fields. She also said she would be interested in bringing those kinds of panels here in the future.

“Hopefully this’ll be the first one, and we can maybe do one a semester,” Liebel said. “Maybe not necessarily in this aspect, but [we could add] a theme to it.”

The panel mostly focused on information that would be useful for any young professional. However, there were some questions that applied specifically to women working in STEM.

Troll said that confidence in one’s skills was one of the most important things to have after graduation.

“Something that I noticed not going into an engineering field, is that people really put engineers at a different level. I went into these projects not knowing anything, and they were like ‘oh my gosh, you’re so smart, you’re an engineer,’” Troll said. “Just hearing that, and knowing that [after] putting in the time for that program and earning that degree, you have a skill set — though you may not have the real-life experience to know how to apply it.”

Wilkerson said she has not had much of an issue as a woman in her field, but that she experienced some problems during her first year of college. 

She described an incident where one male student said something insulting towards her, and another one of her male classmates stood up for her.

“I won’t lie, it’s not really bad being a woman in a ‘man’s field,’ the way it was [in the past],” Wilkerson said. “For the most part, the boys will take care of you.” 

According to the National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, the percentage of women in STEM fields compared to men has increased by 5.9 percent from 1993 to 2015. However, as of 2015, women still only account for 28.4 percent of the total STEM workforce.

At the end of the panel, Liebel asked the panelists if they had any advice for students getting ready to enter the workforce.

“Be willing to learn. If you’re willing to learn anything, I feel like you can do anything,” Okeke said.

Liebel said another women in STEM event for next semester is being planned, but no official date is available yet. For more information, contact the Joint Engineering Student Council on Facebook at SIUE JESC.

Editor’s note: Crishawnna Nash is a front office clerk for The Alestle.

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