Kelly Nisnisan is a junior studying mechanical engineering and hoping to work more in the automotive area. She choose mechanical engineering because in high school she had to pick an elective for class that would fit her schedule and ended up taking an intro to architecture and engineering class. While taking that class fell in love with the engineering aspect and then took all the engineering classes that she was able to take at her high school. To her, the importance of women working in the STEM field is to recognize that “you are in a man’s world but also remember that there are other women within your field that will help empower you.” As a woman working in a field that’s dominated by men, she believes that it means there’s more opportunity and bring in more diversity as well as ideas into the field. She also believes that, “women have different ways of thinking than men which helps bring out everyone’s creativity.” To any young woman who desires to pursue a career in STEM, she advises to ensure that you do enjoy everything you’re doing and that always strive to do your best. To her, being a woman in STEM means that you are helping defy the odds of what women are capable of doing. “Being a woman in STEM is important and not everyone will believe in you but also do not assume everyone is out there to put down.”
Dr. Soult graduated Centre College with a degree in Chemistry and continued to graduate school at Florida State to study inorganic chemistry. Her employment history has been mainly here at UK by starting as a lab coordinator for the general chemistry labs, then moved to a lecturer position, mainly teaching general chemistry classes at the 100 level (103, 105, and 107). Currently she’s teaching CHE 103 because she’s also doing administrative work as the Direct of General Chemistry. She decided to pursue a STEM profession because when she took chemistry in high school, she like the way her teacher taught and explained everything and it all made sense to her. She also thought that chemistry seemed like a good fit because she liked math and science and “wanted to combine the two without getting too heavy into the math and wanted to do more with the science.” After an unexpected loss in high school, she took the attitude of “Let me do what I want to do and make my dreams come true and not worry about what other people think.” She didn’t concern herself of the fact that there were fewer women than men. At home her parents encouraged her to do whatever she wanted to do and what she was good at. She was very fortunate to have support from her immediate and extended family. In graduate school, the women in her class were a great support system when things were going bad and created a group to spend time together and be there for each other. “Whether it’s in school or in your profession, find a group of people who can support you and help you.” She’s been very fortunate since she’s been working at UK. The chemistry department is supportive of everyone and it’s been a great experience working here and having that support from all her colleagues. To any young woman who wants to pursue a STEM career she advises to think about the word “yet” since the mentality in “I can’t do this problem” is different than “I can’t do this problem yet.” She’s seen this as an issue more in women than men since she has more students that are women in her current CHE 103 class. She also advises that, “If you’re interested in science, don’t worry about what anybody else thinks. Do what you love to do and however that makes it, makes that science into your career, if that’s what you want to do. Don’t worry about what other people say or don’t worry about the things people say like “women aren’t suited for science” it’s just baloney. Do what you want to do because you’re interested in it not because somebody says you can or can’t do that.”
Despite only now pursuing her PhD, Kaylynne M. Glover is one of the most accomplished women I have had the pleasure of meeting. She completed her undergraduate BSC degree in Life/Earth Science at the University of Central Arkansas and her MA in Biology at Arkansas State, has served as a college advisor, wrote and instructed a course on the interplays between science and religion, and is now at the University of Kentucky researching sexual coercion and the influences fertility can have on human behavior- all while having a family, acting as president of the Graduate Student Congress, and instructing two undergraduate research labs! She is interested in exploring how society and science interact and would like to play a role creating and informing science policy in government to help bridge the gap between these separated communities.
Kaylynne M. Glover was the first in her family to complete a bachelor’s degree and has defined the odds coming from a community where women were expected to find a husband in college instead of an education. She has been a self-identified ceiling-breaker and patriarchy-smasher from the start as the first female Arkansian to take the Science Olympiad Chemistry exam and wants every girl out there facing the idea that they cannot have it all to know “We need you. We need women who are drawn to what they love. We need women to reject convention.” If she could give any piece of advice to the young women even thinking about entering STEM, it would be that “You can’t be happy without doing what you are drawn to. It is only through following what you love to do that you will find satisfaction.”
Dr. Ashley Steelman is a University of Kentucky professor known by her peers and students for her innovative way of teaching Organic Chemistry, one of the most notorious and daunting college classes. Dr. Steelman received her Bachelor’s of Science from Western Kentucky University and her Ph.D. from the University of Alabama where she studied organic and supramolecular chemistry through focusing on PAMAM dendrimers as drug delivery vectors.
Dr. Steelman is known across the University of Kentucky campus as one of its finest lecturers, something she credits her graduate advisor, Dr. Bonizzoni, for because he sparked her interest in the classroom on top of research.
Dr. Steelman encourages her students to “be confident and… find time for what you want to do.” She wants them to feel secure in leaving the norm because pursuing a career in STEM should not be an issue in this day and age. During her undergraduate years and after her first chemistry exam, Dr. Steelman was told that she was “pretty smart for a cheerleader” and she used those words to fuel her passion for science. “If you put the effort in, you will succeed!”
In future years, Dr. Steelman hopes to research STEM education while continuing teaching. “Research is a whole different being. It is the start for science and can lead your path.”
Brittany L. Slabach is a PhD candidate from the University of Kentucky who received her B.A. in Human Ecology from College of the Atlantic and M.S. in Biology from Tufts. She has served as a mentor to many young women in STEM as a teaching assistant for Biology labs and the STEMCats program while working on her impressive research in population dynamics and social structures of ungulates. One of Brittany’s students said “she made the biggest difference in my becoming comfortable with research my first semester…I probably would have switched majors if not for her.” Brittany credits her advisor, Dr. John G.T. Anderson, in helping shape her views of what a mentor should be and how to be question, not species, driven in research.
Brittany said, growing up, everyone expected her to go to Vet school since that was what women who liked animals were expected to do. But, she liked “gallivanting out in the woods” and is now one of the most impressive, and one of the only female, graduate students in her field. If she could give any piece of advice to other women in STEM, it would be to “do the thing you thought you would never do…you will learn from it.” If you want, “live in a grass hut in the middle of the jungle.” I think everyone can agree, Brittany Slabach has an attitude we all wish we could have when it comes to our careers: “don’t get complacent, step back, and enjoy.”
Dr. Elise Wright is not just your ordinary chemistry professor—she’s from Australia where she was one month away from receiving her black belt before leaving to continue her career in England. Now, she has brought her talents and passion for the sciences here to UK. Her passion stems from her childhood dreams of being the next Indiana Jones, stating that she “always wanted to go on adventures and do something different every day” and believes that in a way, her career as a biochemist has allowed her to do so as a “professional problem solver.” Chemistry is practically in her blood as her mother is also a professor in chemistry who always encouraged her in her STEM-related efforts. She stated that sometimes there were men who believed the best way to motivate you was to tell you “you’re not good enough” and those who would only assist her because she was a woman. However, she said that there were more women who would encourage her and showed “excellent examples of why women should work together” that made any problems she encountered seem easy to overcome. With every country she has worked in, she has found no difference in the way women are treated in STEM fields because she’s an open person and wants to meet everyone. She strives to have “professional optimism and see the best in people” and believes it pays off …”most people say they love my passion and enthusiasm and think I am fun,” which is definitely the consensus in the biochemistry course she teaches. She had lots of great advice for young women who desire to pursue a career in STEM but the overarching theme was being able to improve and know yourself… “There are lots of people who want to put you down, don’t let your internal voice be one of them. You have to know you limits. Don’t be afraid to say ‘oh well, today was bad but I will make tomorrow better’ and don’t let anyone say you can’t do something.”
Lauren Mehanna was a chemical engineering major at the University of Kentucky. She is originally from Lexington, KY. She has completed research with various UK engineering professors during 2015 and 2016 and an NSF Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program at the University of Georgia. All of her projects have involved nanoparticle characterization and applications to cancer detection methods. Her REU specifically had her use iron oxide nanoparticles as a cancer detection method for glioblastoma multiforme (GBM), an invasive brain cancer. She has also interned at Piramal Pharma Solutions, working in an Analytical Research and Development Laboratory.
Lauren chose STEM as a profession because she enjoyed math and science and grew passionate about laboratory work and experimentation. She reveled in the challenge of STEM and tackled her obstacles head on. "The end result of such projects, research experiments, and reports is extremely rewarding. The process itself can be daunting, but the final products I have created throughout my engineering career makes me so proud of what I've accomplished. No other subject has ever done that for me." To Lauren, being a woman in STEM means she won't let anyone stand in the way of her achieving her dreams: "I am a woman who is empowered, driven, and won't say no in the face of failure."
In regards to gender influencing her work, Lauren has not experienced much differential in experience in her coursework. "The lack of gender disparity in chemical engineering has made our work incredibly successful. With this difference eliminated, the women in my classes are confident enough to speak their minds and are empowered to challenge the ideas of others." In regards to diversity in STEM fields, Lauren highlights the importance of including women: "most of the greatest thinkers and innovators in recent years have been women. I don't necessarily think women outthink men, but they definitely bring new perspectives that are vital for creativity and success. Women diversify meetings and teams, which ultimately leads to better collaboration".
When responding to how the imposter syndrome in STEM has affected her, Lauren responds: "I experience the imposter syndrome on multiple occasions, but I don’t necessarily view it as a negative attribute. I would find it strange that someone would never experience the imposter syndrome at some point in their careers; however, I do think this syndrome is a way for personal growth and shouldn’t be experienced long-term. A little bit of self-doubt and lack of recognition is healthy and encourages you to build your confidence when in new situations and starting new careers. I think the more your confidence grows this imposter syndrome diminishes, because you realize that you are strong and capable of accomplishing the tasks set in front of you, not just faking your way through it."
Her advice to young women who want to pursue STEM careers is this:
I think if a STEM career is your passion then you should go for it full force! Now I think it is important to remember that your journey will not always be easy, and there will be many times when you question your career goals and want to give up settling for an easier path. Don’t lose sight of why you’re doing what you’re doing. The next few years may be difficult, but the lifetime career afterwards will be worth the work! You can always find a great support system to get you through it, and honestly, I have never found better friends than through my undergraduate years. You will find others who are also passionate and together you can do anything you imagine".
Jordyn Tucker double majored in biosystems and agricultural engineering and mechanical engineering and graduated from the University of Kentucky. She has completed internships at Big Ass Solutions here in Lexington, Toyota in Georgetown, and Honeywell Aerospace in Torrance, California. She's been involved fin research on biofuels for two years and has currently shifted focus to work on the flocking of fixed wing drones. Her current project within the mechanical engineering department at UK involves building, hard wiring, and coding drones so that only one in a flock of many would need to be controlled. The research will hopefully eventually progress to self-directed drones.
Jordyn chose STEM majors because of her early fascination with dolphins, focusing on engineering after she decided against pursuing marine biology. She credits STEM as one of her motivators that keeps her trying new things. "People tend to think that STEM is very cut and dry, but it involves a lot of design and innovation that women and girls are naturally great at. Additionally, having a STEM education really just empowers women in all aspects. It can be hard, but the feeling of working hard and getting results really changes your outlook on the rest of your life, and give you the confidence to try new things." She also champions women's involvement in these fields for the purpose of diversity of thought. "I think women STEM really bring something unique to the table. We have a lot of different viewpoints, and generally our life experiences are different than that of men, so we can put forth a lot of creativity."
Working in a male-dominated field can be challenging, but Jordyn emphasizes remembering that you represent a group larger than yourself. "If you're the only girl in your class, or the only woman in your department, you end up having to speak up and really take charge to make yourself heard. Even if the men go out of their way to listen to your opinion, as the only woman you want to make sure you represent ALL women really well. The ability to maybe change someone's perception of women in STEM is a really powerful thing, and it's great when you're able to make a positive impact."
Her advice to girls who may suffer from imposter syndrome is to quiet the internal doubt and hesitation: "it's a "fake it until you make it" sort of scenario. Everyone needs someone in their life who can hype them up, but it's important to practice doing so for yourself. Shut that voice down, kick it away. People aren't going to doubt you for asking for help, just make sure you do a thorough check before you ask. Your natural desire to do well will show, and you will learn enough that eventually your imposter syndrome isn't as strong as your confidence."
To Jordyn, being a woman in STEM means being smart, fearless and confident. "Even if you don't start out that way, or don't think you embody those things, that's what being a woman in STEM does to you."
Stephanie Hayden is an undergraduate student at the University of Kentucky majoring in Biological Sciences. She plans to attend Medical School in the future and is amazed by the human body. She believes that the advancement of medicine is crucial for the betterment of our society and although her career at UK has been academically challenging, she knows that it has prepared her to apply her knowledge to her future community. She loves children because of their positive outlook on life even in the face of adversity. For this reason, she hopes to focus on pediatrics. As a woman in a STEM field, her advice to other girls wanting to pursue what she has is that through hard work and perseverance, one can achieve anything they set their mind to—even if there are a few bumps on the road. She lives her daily life full of positivity and yearns to be an encouragement to all those around her.
Emma Guilfioil was an undergraduate Chemical Engineering major at the University of Kentucky who graduated in May 2018 as summa cum laude. She will be receiving her Masters in Business Administration also from the University of Kentucky and will then enter the Environmental Engineering field. Her whole life, she has been surrounded by engineers, and her family has a lot of experience in the environmental engineering field. Apart from her family influence, she also chose this field because she appreciates the application of combining the environment and engineering. While her undergraduate career has been challenging, she finds fulfillment in applying skills to real world problem solving. As a woman in a STEM field, her advice to other girls wanting to enter the field is to own it. She believes that we are all capable of success, and believing in oneself is key.