Professor Sarah Edwards currently teaches general chemistry for both chemistry and non-chemistry majors and oversees many of the first-year chemistry labs. She graduated from UC Davis with a bachelor’s degree in Chemistry and then from Penn State with a PhD. Also, in chemistry. Before coming to Western Kentucky University, she taught a few years at Vanderbilt and one year at UK. However, she describes how her time spent at WKU has been her favorite because the students are so respectful, and she has the ability to work with them one-on-one. Currently, she has been researching protein confirmations along with several students enrolled in the Gatton Academy at WKU (a program for gifted high school juniors and seniors where they attend WKU as full-time students instead of staying at a traditional high school.) While WKU is not one of the highest ranked STEM schools, Edwards describes how first year undergraduates are able to work with professors doing research in labs and interact directly with professors instead of having to go through a teaching assistant who has to go through a post-doctoral fellow who can go to the professor. The atmosphere at WKU is very supporting and the input she gives to her department is taken into consideration and in her opinion is a fantastic place to be involved in the science field. Additionally, WKU has brand new labs nicer than many of the labs at some of the higher ranked school and since chemistry is chemistry no matter what state, country, or continent you’re on, students should focus on whether a university’s atmosphere fits their needs instead of whether that university is the highest ranking. Edwards points out the WKU is making an attempt to build community in STEM because while loving the field you’re pursuing is a requirement to be successful, so is having a network of people around you. She thinks that while all people should form together to help one another out, women in the field especially tend to gravitate towards one another and should form a community not unlike the “brotherhood” that exists amongst men.
Edwards says that she always knew teaching was the career she wanted to pursue and while the level of teaching changed from elementary to high school to college, she decided to become a university professor because it gave her the opportunity to work with research. She first discovered she wanted to pursue science was when in kindergarten a demonstration was done where a banana was placed into liquid nitrogen for a minute or so then after was able to hammer a nail into a piece of wood and thus she believes that sparking children’s interest in STEM at a young age is necessary to show them that science is so much more than just doing worksheets. Her mother and grandmother helped pave the path for her and other women who are interested in pursuing fields in science, however, she thinks that with the push for women to enter the stem field that some may enter it without the love for STEM that is necessary to be successful in the field. In her opinion, STEM isn’t about gender, there is nothing in science that discriminates against it the only thing that matters is performing and repeating experiments. Overall, she has had an extremely positive experience being a women in the STEM field, despite encountering a few people who are just jerks. Furthermore, she describes that if a person refuses to notice that half of the population is able to work in STEM, then that person will inhibit their own success. She describes how someone asked her if she published her work under a male name and while this phenomenon did occur while women like her mother and grandmother were entering their fields, it hasn’t been necessary in this century; so while she acknowledges people with these attitudes exist, when she encounters these people, Edwards uses it as a way to educate them.