Cassidy Gordon strolled through the hallway of Clark’s STEM building on the way to her first class needed for her engineering degree. Two things stuck out to her as she tugged the door open: there were over 40 students in the class and all of them were male.
Gordon grew uneasy as she navigated her way through the rows to find an empty seat.
Self-doubt swarmed like bees in the back of her head. It wasn’t until halfway through class that she noticed one other girl in the room and relief flowed through her.
This is a common occurrence within STEM classes and careers. Clark’s STEM NERD Girls program works to combat male dominance and support women throughout STEM career fields. It hosted the Women’s STEM Tea at Clark on May 17 from 4-6 p.m. to create an inclusive environment of female STEM students and mentors.
Gordon, a member of STEM NERD Girls, is in her last year at Clark and studying to become a mechanical engineer in the aerospace program. She said she wonders if the obstacles she’s experience in STEM have been related to her gender.
“You’ll get a lot of self-doubt in terms of ‘Is it just because I’m a girl?’ or ‘Is it just because they’re jerks?’” Gordon said.
Gordon said she looks up to her female professors and how they’re “completely unphased by guys giving them attitude.”
Tina Barsotti is one of Gordon’s engineering professors, the chair of the Engineering Transfer Department at Clark and one of the program directors for STEM NERD Girls. She said the main cause of this issue is that women are not as encouraged by society or their families to pursue science- and math-based fields as men.
Barsotti said STEM NERD Girls, herself and other faculty members organize STEM outreach programs at middle and elementary schools.
The goal is to show that STEM is a diverse and creative field open to both genders. They visited Frontier Middle School in April, and they plan to host both an all-girls and coed STEM camp this summer.
“What we try to do when we go and do outreach is just to show the students that first of all math and science is in everything they do, and it’s fun,” Barsotti said.
Charlotte Miller, president of STEM NERD Girls, is working toward becoming a licensed architect.
“When I look back on my childhood, I remember setting up the playhouse for Barbie but never playing with Barbie herself,” Miller said.
Miller’s family never encouraged her to go to college or pursue a career in engineering, she said.
“That’s why I’m president of the Women of STEM Club, because I want to show little girls that science is fabulous,” Miller said.
She also joined because of how often she’s seen her male classmates shut down the opinions of her female peers.
“I’ve had discrimination issues arise throughout the NERD girls, and there’s always the microaggressions,” Miller said. “You know, the tiny murders that destroy us every day.”
Miller said she often hears comments like “shut up” and that her female classmate’s ideas are “stupid.” She always advocates for other women in STEM, because of situations like these.
“A lot of my NERD girls have such a holistic, creative view on STEM, and I constantly see them being ignored,” Miller said.
Julie Linn, a Clark alumna and senior engineer in the aerospace industry, was one of the mentors who came to the Women’s STEM Tea. Linn said she is the only female engineer at her facility.
“It kind of gets lonely in a sense, because there’s no camaraderie with people who are in the same situation,” Linn said.
It’s still societally accepted that women aren’t strong or capable enough to compete with men in STEM careers, Linn said. It makes her constantly feel like she has to prove herself.
“There’s very much still archaic notions that women should be at home taking care of their family versus working,” Linn said.
She said the issue is slowly disappearing, and groups like STEM NERD Girls that reach out to a diverse community and empower each other are speeding the process up.
If you want to work somewhere or do something and that’s your heart, I don’t think you should be discriminated against it,” Linn said.