Aneesha Prakash is a computer science major, math minor and president of Women in Science and Technology at Chapman.
Though the ratios of females to males in science and technology have been improving, the rate of change is not as fast as it could be and women are still not equals in all STEM areas. Part of the reason this gap still exists is due to a dearth of women role models and mentors, particularly in the physics and computer science fields.
Empowering Women in STEM at Chapman
I transferred to Chapman from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) in the fall of 2013. While I loved being at Chapman, the one thing I missed was an organization like the one I was involved in at UIUC: the Society of Women Engineers (SWE). Being a member of SWE was one of my favorite activities and I made life-long friends through it. The senior members and mentors made me aware of opportunities and career paths I would have otherwise not thought to pursue. I and my colleagues would really like to help create a similar environment here at Chapman, which is why we have gotten involved in Women In Science and Technology (WIST).
The Women In Science and Technology organization is a new club on campus geared towards empowering women pursuing STEM fields at Chapman. We plan to do this by providing a platform for additional professional development support, such as resume workshops, speaker presentations, and helping identify research and internship opportunities on campus. WIST also conducts social activities, where members get a chance to meet other students in their own and related fields.
Mentorship and Support from Faculty and Staff
With the WIST speaker presentations, and the mentorship program we hope to roll out in the spring, we’re looking to give women at Chapman some insight into available career trajectories and the confidence to pursue them. We were very honored to have Chapman CIO, Ms. Helen Norris, be our first speaker. She gave attendees invaluable advice on how to deal with challenges and opportunities in industry. She also brought to light how being a minority in the classroom or workplace can at times feel isolating, but can be overcome through organizations such as WIST, where women can make meaningful connections outside the classroom.
What’s really been amazing is the amount of faculty and staff support we have received. Upon just the mention of our new organization, Schmid College staff member Dana Dacier enthusiastically connected me to Dr. Criselda Toto, assistant professor of mathematics and computer science, and Dr. Elaine Benakas Schwartz, assistant professor of chemistry.
Dr. Toto is our faculty advisor and Chapman’s Women In Technology International (WITI) representative. She is often bringing our attention to opportunities on campus and those provided by WITI as well. Dr. Schwartz in turn connected me to members of WIST’s incredibly motivated board.
Dr. Schwartz, along with assistant professor Dr. Erik Linstead and associate dean Dr. Michael Fahy, have been very supportive of WIST from the beginning. They even participated in our professional development workshop held in conjunction with the American Chemistry Society and Beta Beta Beta (the biology honors society). They gave us insight into pursuable careers and securing research and internship positions. We’re also excited to have the Dean of Leatherby Libraries, Charlene Baldwin, speak to us on November 19th.
Just Getting Started
As we’re just getting off the ground, we’re focusing on growing the organization so we can leverage the resources at Chapman to help students succeed in their fields. In the future we hope to have more networking events where we connect students to mentors among Chapman alumni and national organizations, such as Women In Technology International (WITI).
One of our eventual goals is to also have an outreach program to future generations of women in science and technology. We would like to work with young girls in middle and high school and educate them on the benefits of pursuing a STEM field and the opportunities available to them at Chapman when they do so.
If you would like more information about WIST visit our Facebook page.