Female WSU students find encouragement in science and tech

In fields dominated by men, women can feel isolated, but there are those who are invested in encouraging the female interest in scientific and technological fields. On Sept. 25, the Women’s Center hosted the Women’s Networking Fair to allow the women of Weber State University to come together to receive support and create opportunities.

“As long as women stay out of the scientific field, we’re losing half of the ideas that are out there,” said WSU chemistry professor Michelle Paustenbaugh. “Women look at things differently, not better or worse than men, but differently. We need to have as many different people with different ways of looking at the world to understand it better.”

Dorothy Hill, a women’s advocate with the center, said the main purpose of the fair is to introduce female students to valuable connections.

“The networking fair is an opportunity for women students to interact with women on campus faculty, staff and students and be encouraged to reach out for opportunities of particular interest to women,” Hill said. “The fair will emphasize women’s health, leadership opportunities, wage and gender inequality, faculty connections, cultural strengths of women and more. Women especially benefit greatly by networking and connecting to other women and seeing women role models, and the networking fair is an opportunity to begin making these connections. Hopefully by meeting women role models, women students will be better able to navigate the university as a strong and empowered woman student, and reach out for opportunities beyond their comfort zone.”

Among the many tables was a table of female faculty members from the College of Science, which drew in chemistry freshman Emily Shepherd, whose interest in science trumped her interest in English, where she excelled, at a young age.

“I always had this vision of me wearing a lab coat, and that was my dream,” Shepherd said. “English I was really good at, but it didn’t really make me excited like chemistry.”

To find support as a male or female science student, Shepherd suggests turning toward science clubs.

“I went to the first chemistry club meeting, and the older students offered help with homework or someone to talk to,” Shepherd said.

Paustenbaugh suggested ways of finding support for female science students.

“Talk to the female faculty in science or the Women’s Center. They know us in there and can help introduce you to the right faculty member if for some reason you’re scared to approach us.”

Staci Williams, a junior and botany major, found her own support in the botany department.

“I am in the botany program, where there are so many strong women that I can use as role models. I feel even more empowered. The women there have so much knowledge and are from different stages of their lives. I have made so many friends with the women in the botany program, and each one leaves me with the feeling of comfort that I am supposed to be here.”

It’s not only the female faculty that can offer support. Male professors can offer encouragement and words of advice as well.

“Even if it’s a man, that doesn’t mean they’re not supportive of female students,” Paustenbaugh said. “Our College of Science is one of the friendliest . . . because we really value our students. Students at Weber won’t realize how friendly we are until they go somewhere else.”

Many female students in science may feel they cannot pursue a field they are passionate about because they aren’t excelling in a class.

“Even if it’s hard, even if you’re terrible at it, (it) doesn’t mean you can’t pursue it,” Shepherd encouraged. “You should do things you love, even if you’re bad at it. If you love it enough, you’re going to work for it and you’re going to try harder.”

Williams offered further encouragement to her fellow female science majors.

“To me, it should not be about whether you are a man or a woman in science. As scientists, we know we are equal and we are all connected. My advice to my fellow female students is to just be yourself, and if anyone, male or female, does talk down to you, be honest and let them know that it is not OK. Never just take it.”

For further support for female students in general, the Women’s Center can be found in Room 322 of the Shepherd Union Building. For support and encouragement in careers in science, technology, engineering and math, the STEM Fair will be held Oct. 2 in the Shepherd Union Ballrooms from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.