It is officially March—the time of the year when the weather starts to get warmer, the days start to get longer, and the semester starts to get busier. March is also Women’s History Month, and on March 8th, we celebrated International Women’s Day!
In years prior, I didn’t give Women’s History Month too much thought. March was simply another month that came and went. However, this year, I want to change that. I want to take some time to learn about women’s history as well as the lived experiences of women today. Specifically, I want to learn about the experiences of women in my life, which happen to mainly be women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics). So, I set out to ask my fellow UD Honors College students, Hannah Bockius, a Junior Biomedical Engineering major, and Felicia Seybold, a Junior Applied Molecular Biology and Biotechnology major, about their experiences as women in STEM.
Our conversation began with a discussion about their decisions to pursue STEM and what their experiences have been like so far at UD and in Honors.
“Why did you choose a STEM major?”
Hannah began by explaining how having an allergy herself impacted her decision to choose biomedical engineering. “I was interested in allergy research and medical devices, specifically EpiPen’s,” she explained. “There are many engineers in my family, so I was told that with an engineering degree, I would learn the skills I need [like teamwork] even if I don’t become an engineer for good.”
Felicia responded with, “To be honest, I am not sure. In high school, I wanted to do science stuff, specifically Bio. I took AP Biology and really enjoyed it. My favorite unit was molecular biology.” Yet, she explained how when it came to deciding her major, she felt the need to choose a major that was more specific than just biology. “I wanted a more hands-on experience with my major.” This is why she went with Applied Molecular Biology and Biotechnology.
“How has the Honors College impacted your experience as a woman in STEM?”
Hannah said, “I was able to meet most of my friends in Redding, throughout my Freshman year, and from taking Honors classes, like Integrated Bio/Chem. I also met people in my major through Honors and living in Redding.” Hannah explained that by making friends and connections early on in her STEM degree, she felt that she could be more successful later on in her major, especially for her upper-level engineering classes, which involve a great deal of teamwork.
Felicia shared a similar experience; she met many of her friends through Honors classes and from Redding in her first year. She went to elaborate: “Some of my early Honors courses have helped with classes now since classes now are focused on the bigger picture, asking questions, and having discussions.” She felt that classes like Honors Integrated Biology and Chemistry set her up for success in her upper-level major courses.
“What is your favorite part about being a woman in STEM?”
“Bringing a unique perspective to solving problems, from being a woman but also as a person,” Hannah explained. “Also, the community of women engineers at UD. Being a part of that community is great because we support each other.”
Felicia’s favorite part is, “Doing the science and putting on a lab coat. And I agree about being able to bring in unique perspectives and sharing my own.” Felicia said that when doing lab work, she enjoys the organization and communication aspects of the lab. She also explained that “while those should be universal things [organization and communication], they are often considered ‘women’s skills’ [in society], and it sometimes takes women to implement them.”
From here, our conversation shifted to a discussion of the challenges that Hannah and Felicia have faced so far in their academic and STEM careers.
“What has been the most challenging part about being a woman in STEM?”
Hannah conveyed, “For me, it has been working in group settings, which is a big part of being an engineering major.” She explained how when it comes to certain administrative tasks—organizing, creating schedules—she has experienced that her male counterparts will often not do them on purpose, or do them poorly, so that someone else in the group has to take over. Generally, women in her group, including herself, will be expected to perform these tasks.
Felicia described her biggest challenge to be dealing with imposter syndrome, a feeling when one believes that they are not qualified or right for a certain role, which can stem from societal expectations and pressures. Felicia also shared how she has been hesitant to be more aggressive in her classes or to put herself out there in terms of pursuing research, while a lot of men within the major don’t seem to share those same feelings. “It is a matter of not being afraid to ask for help and ask to be involved in things that can be difficult, while other students don’t always have that problem.”
After discussing some of the challenges in STEM, we then began to discuss what has helped them to overcome these obstacles, as well as what UD has done to help address these challenges.
“What progress have you seen in addressing these challenges during your time at UD?”
Hannah said that for her, a big help has been CATME, a tool that is used in her engineering classes to evaluate fellow group members on their contributions to the group. She also described that in her classes, there have been “ways to report these sorts of things [imbalance of workload], and we have had class discussions about people’s behaviors and internal biases. Having great mentors helps too.”
Felicia similarly felt that having support from professors and TAs helps. “There are lots of opportunities here at UD, and the TAs and professors really push them. We get lots of advice on how to get involved and are encouraged to [do so].”
Finally, our conversation wrapped up with their hopes for the future.
“What is something you are looking forward to in your STEM career?”
Hannah stated: “Creating life-changing medicine. And bringing unique perspectives to complex problems.” Hannah also has a global studies major and believes that “Engineer equals problem-solver, so I need to look at global issues to address complex problems as an engineer.”
Felicia is looking forward to working and gaining experience in the biotechnology industry. “I am looking forward to being a part of some interesting stuff—biotech has exploded because of COVID.”
Overall, both Felicia and Hannah shared how they have gained great experiences, new skill sets, and amazing connections, including communities of support through Honors. As women in STEM, Women’s History Month is important to both of them because they feel that it’s empowering to be recognized and to recognize the accomplishments of other women in STEM.
Lastly, I hope that after reading this blog post and hearing some of the experiences of fellow Honors College students, you too may take some time this month to listen to, learn about, and reflect on the experiences of the women in your life. Happy Women’s History Month!