Sydney Norman is currently a senior studying computer science at the University of Kentucky. Last summer she worked for Amazon in Seattle, WA as a software development intern focusing on the Alexa Engine team. She currently serves as a teaching assistant for two Intro to Programming labs for CS215. She uses this medium as a way to engage her younger counterparts and stimulate interest in STEM careers. " I have been a TA for the past three semesters, and I really love it. I don’t anticipate every teaching in the future, but I really enjoy getting to work more closely with some of the younger computer science students and hopefully inspire them to continue in the field". To Sydney, working in a male dominated field isn't necessarily out of the ordinary. "I tend to take more pride in myself because I’m doing something unique for women, but that’s ridiculous because it isn’t like I’m doing anything that most women can’t do. Anyone can be a software developer, they just have to take the time to learn", she remarks.
Sydney emphasizes the importance of not only including female voices in STEM leadership, but other sources of diversity as well, " the woman’s preferences and needs will never be considered if we don’t have a seat at the table, so women need to be in these positions of power and influence and represent their fair share. This goes beyond women, too. We should aim to have all positions of leadership evenly distributed between people of different races, ethnicities, sexual orientations, genders, etc".
She spoke candidly about her experiences with imposter syndrome, recalling her reservations early on as a freshman. "I had never programmed before, so I looked around at all the other white men in my class who knew exactly what they were doing because they had been targeted as future STEM professionals and I thought I would never figure it out. Luckily, I’m a person who is driven by that kind of fear, so I easily caught up and surpassed many of them. I frequently see young women in the classes I TA get freaked out by the same thing, and unfortunately, not all of them move past it. I still get it sometimes, but I try to recognize when it is holding me back and force myself to get over it".
Her advice for women interested in pursuing a STEM career is simple: "More than anything, move past the imposter syndrome. Learn to recognize it and realize that it isn’t real—no one knows all the things you think they know, and you know more than you realize. Also, fake it until you make it. Even if you lack confidence and don’t think you can do something, just try and do it anyway. I guarantee you that most of the guys you see doing stuff are less qualified that you are, they just have an insane amount of confidence because everyone always told them how great they are".
After graduating from State University of New York at Albany with dual degrees in biology and chemistry, Dr. Susan Barron decided to get her Ph.D. in psychology. Additionally, she did a postdoc in San Diego before deciding to start working at the University of Kentucky in order to continue her work while mentoring undergraduate students and teaching psychology classes. She loves serving as a role model to students, particularly female students interested in STEM. Her passion for her research in Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Disorder (FASD) began in college when she started to realize the discrimination and persecution against women who used drugs during pregnancy. For the past 25 years at the University of Kentucky, Dr. Barron has been working to change this stigma while simultaneously researching drugs that have the potential to reduce the effects of FASD. Despite Dr. Barron being aware that there was a gender gap in the STEM field and having to overcome the confidence gap, she found that it was more important to do what she loves and advises all young women interested in STEM to do the same.
Shelley Roberts is the founder of GrassRoots Pharmacy in Lexington, Kentucky where she earned her PharmD degree at the UK College of Pharmacy. Along with being the lead pharmacist at Grassroots and owning her own business, Shelley has also started the cross country and track team at Liberty Elementary School. She is also looking into starting a running non-profit organization so that kids in the community can be more actively involved, while simultaneously promoting daily healthy habits.
Shelley was drawn to community pharmacy because of her love of patient interaction, and she became fascinated by how her role as a pharmacist could benefit the public. “Pharmacy is a perfect profession for a woman who wants it all. Pharmacists are respected health care professionals, but I’m also allowed the time to be active in my community, start a family, and even open and maintain a business. I’m able to pursue and apply my interest in science in math while still having the fulfillment of having time to help my clients and put them first on a day to day basis.”
“Going through pharmacy school I had plenty of girls in my class, but I mostly encountered male pharmacists and professors. As a high school and undergraduate student, I never had a female pharmacist role model to really look up to because the field was mostly dominated by men.” Rather than be discouraged by this fact, Shelley took this as an opportunity to create a new, expectation-free vision for herself of what kind of a leader she wanted to be. “I drew encouragement from being a trail-blazer in itself.” Shelley believes that in today’s society it’s important for women to know that if they have the passion and motivation to work in the STEM field, then that in itself is enough to prove that they belong there. “The pharmacy field has recently had a shift in being predominately women, which I’m proud to be apart of, but there is still the challenge of facing society’s bias that men are more knowledgeable in the field. While working as a staff pharmacist at K-Mart some customers would ask to speak to the male that was interning me, despite the fact that I had been working there for 10 years.”
Shelley wants to encourage women to gain the respect they deserve by being confident in their field of interest and knowing that the potential of having a family shouldn’t limit their career options and opportunities. Shelley advises young women who want to pursue a STEM career to spend time with other women in that field so that they can understand their life trajectory better and see the time frame of where their goals will align more. Shelley also hopes to be a role model for not only women who want to find a balance between achieving their career goals and having a family, but also for her daughters. “If you want to go into a science or math-based field, there’s a place for you in that career as a woman, and you can contribute so much more when you embrace that role.”
Maanasa Manchikanti is currently pursuing her undergraduate degree in Public Health with a minor in Health Advocacy at the University of Kentucky. She described her journey in college and hopes for the future, "I started college as a Biology major but I quickly realized my passion laid somewhere else. I knew that I wanted to help as many as people as possible, and learning as much as I could about population health, preventative medicine, and health behavior would allow me to do that on a much larger scale. I am wanting to pursue a Master’s in Public Health before attending Medical School; public health is an important topic in the field of healthcare and I want aid in the further development of the bridging of these two fields. Preventative medicine is what I want to pursue as my focus in my Master’s Program and I can combine this with my future MD to provide the best treatment possible for my future patients. Health Policy is another focus that I am passionate about; the amount of healthcare funding that goes towards preventative medicine is a mere 3%. I want my future work to go towards making fundamental changes to the healthcare system and policy to change healthcare for the better.
It is important for women to be involved in the STEM field because we bring a different approach and more diverse knowledge to a problem that has been around for so many years. The hardships that women have to face to advance in this field makes us just that much more motivated to excel and truly solve the problems that impact so many.
Girls and women of younger generations sometimes do not want to pursue their dream due to the stigmas and views society has placed on them. It is important for us to know change these stigmas and show these young girls that there is a place for everyone in STEM, and society should encourage everyone to pursue their dreams whether it be engineering, medicine, teaching, etc."
Chelsea West is a sophomore in Information Communication Technology at the University of Kentucky. Originally from a small town on the Kentucky/WV border, she spent her childhood years on her mother’s work PC playing around with live HTML editors due to a lack of stable internet access at home. She quickly became proficient enough to build basic websites and has since carried her passion for development all the way to adulthood. Chelsea is primarily interested in UX design and is always looking for better ways to understand user experience – ideally, she says her research will focus on enhancing human-product interaction.
She knows all too well the effects of impostor syndrome, stating that there are some days that make it difficult to feel at ease in her field. “I definitely feel out-of-place sometimes. It’s especially annoying when someone decides to question me about irrelevant, vaguely tech-related things – to be frank, I don’t exactly hear them telling nearby men ‘I just want to test your knowledge.’” This doesn’t get her down, though. “While there are some difficult moments, I know that I deserve to be where I am – just like anyone else. I don’t have to defend my interests to STEM gatekeepers.” Chelsea also firmly believes that passion is important: “If you are at all passionate about computing, creating, designing, etc.– go for it! People will tell you not to pursue coding if you aren’t great with math or if you aren’t familiar with hardware. Don’t be fooled: if you want to be here, you belong! Everyone has to start somewhere, and you certainly don’t have to have been a ‘techie’ your whole life to get involved in information technology or computer science.”
Lastly, Chelsea stresses the importance of connections with other women in STEM. “I joined the campus chapter of ACM-W last semester and felt a huge weight lifted from my shoulders almost immediately. It’s so rewarding to be able to discuss similar experiences with people who understand exactly what you’ve been through.” Friendships also boost confidence and help networking, she adds: “I walk tall knowing that there are others like me who relate to me and what I experience in STEM. Being able to work on projects with my friends and have my name on it, of course, is just the icing on the cake!”
Abby Shelton is a senior in electrical engineering at the University of Kentucky. She is interested in renewable energy and in efforts to update the power grid to accommodate renewable sources. Abby has applied to graduate school and hopes to pursue a master’s program with a focus in industrial engineering or engineering management.Coming into college, Abby wasn’t really aware of the gender gap in engineering. In high school, all her advanced math classes had an equal number of females to males, so she figured it would be the same in college. At the start of college, most introductory classes such as chemistry and calculus had plenty of females. But now in her upper level engineering classes, it is not uncommon for Abby to be the only female. At first, she didn’t have any friends in electrical or even know anyone, and that’s when the gender gap became real to her. Abby would try to tackle everything on her own, which was difficult. If she could give any advice to her freshman self, it would be to make meaningful connections in her classes right off the bat. The more friendships you form, the less you feel like a minority.
Kaitlin Musick is a second year PharmD candidate at the University of Kentucky College of Pharmacy. Her hometown is Indianapolis, Indiana and she completed three years of undergraduate studies as a Human Nutrition major here at UK. Kaitlin recently pursued a research project, completing a quality analysis of the drug alvimopan. This research project pushed Kaitlin out of her comfort zone and allowed her the opportunity to collect patient data and analyze it to determine the efficacy of this medication in a specific patient population. In this project, Kaitlin was allowed a great deal of independence which gave her the opportunity to improve her problem-solving skills, as well as her confidence in her abilities. Kaitlin has passions in healthcare, academia, and clinical research. She stated, “I’ve always been fascinated by the body and how it works and adapts.” Kaitlin was led to a career in pharmacy because of her desire for close patient interactions and her love of pathophysiology and pharmacology. Growing up, Kaitlin looked up to her older sister, a Physician Assistant, as a role model. Kaitlin’s sister was the first in their family to go into the healthcare field and played a large role in encouraging Kaitlin to pursue a STEM career. Kaitlin has watched her sister excel in an academic, professional, and personal environment and truly values this mentorship, encouragement, and advice.
Although Kaitlin views the University of Kentucky as welcoming environment that encourages equal opportunity for all, she is compelled to fight an often-subconscious stereotype that women must choose between a career and family. “Being a woman in STEM means being able to challenge yourself intellectually, but also being willing to challenge the idea that society can tell you how to balance your career and life.” Kaitlin looks up to other female health care providers who have mastered the ability to balance a prestigious career, teaching, research, and family life. Overall, Kaitlin believes that women in STEM bring a new perspective to the healthcare field. She advises younger girls who want to pursue STEM to research career choices, reach out to current professionals, and get experience. Immersion in one’s field of interest is the best way to determine where your true passions lie and what your goals are moving forward. “Pharmacy is a great example of a profession that has shown a marked increase in the inclusion of women. I think this movement starts from the bottom: women in the field talking to and encouraging other young girls. Colleges of pharmacy have made it a goal to diversify their student population and the profession, and with this we have seen a great increase in female pharmacists.” Kaitlin is excited to be a woman in STEM because of the opportunity to mentor other young women as they work towards goals of their own. This comradery and support between women has benefitted Kaitlin greatly throughout her career and she hopes to continue to provide this support for others.
Dr. Catalina Velez-Ortega is no stranger to the various twists and turns that can occur in this journey called life. She began as an undergraduate student majoring in biomedical engineering, in the country of Columbia. Inspired by her father who is a physician, Dr. Velez-Ortega has always had a passion to combine her love for math and physics. While pursuing her bachelor’s degree, she received the opportunity to travel to the United States for a semester long lab experience at Ohio State University. Here is where she fell in love with research. “I was driving what I was doing every day. There was not a routine. Every day was something new.” Biomedical engineering was fairly new in Columbia, so when Dr. Velez-Ortega returned she searched for research opportunities in a variety of fields. She ended up in an immunology lab that inspired her to obtain a Master’s degree in this subject. Shortly after completion of this degree she came to the University of Kentucky for a position in immunology, which she held for a year, until she stumbled on the Integrated Medical Sciences PHD program. She fell in love with research and lab work all over again in her first year of rotations. Dr. Velez-Ortega’s current lab work is all about hearing and deafness. She works with mouse models that have been modified to enhanced or repair hearing issues to see if the same changes could be made in humans to fix similar problems. Throughout her educational and work journey, Catalina has had a number of male mentors but never a female mentor. She believes that her mentors were key to her success but definitely thinks that women mentors may have been a better fit. For this reason she is involved in women empowerment groups for those who have felt less than their male counterparts, just to show them that they too can accomplish their goals as women. Dr. Velez-Ortega’s advice for women pursuing STEM careers is to, “Never let [gender differences] get you down. You can prove your worth. Just know that you are going to make it.”
Dr. Gady started her educational career at her home base at University of Central Florida with a Bachelor's degree in Mechanical Engineering. Afterwards, she moved on to Illinois for her Master's and Doctorate in Theoretical and Applied Mechanics. Still filled the desire to learn, she continued her education at the University of Pennsylvania for her post-doc. Dr. Grady decided she wanted to go into engineering around 6th/7th grade because it was encouraged by a teacher of hers. Dr. Grady decided in her sophomore year of college that she wanted to be a faculty member. This was largely inspired by her professors at the time being really good role models and caring about their students. Seeing their way of life made her see a way she could do really good work and impact young lives in the process. She believes it's really important to have mentors through your academic career because the experiences gained from interacting with them shape who you are today. As a result she tries to be a support system for any student that would let her. Dr. Grady's research involves the study of Biofilms adhesion, specifically the force needed to pull a biofilm from any given surface. This is an interesting research for her because it is biology heavy and the last time she took a biology class was in high school, proving that "you can still learn a lot after school." She advises that when choosing a job, to choose one that you can integrate into your life, to avoid the feeling that work isn't a part of your life. Her advice to younger students is to "persevere through it and find things to help you integrate life into what you do so just really love it." She is currently an Associate Professor in Mechanical Engineering at the University of Kentucky.
Stephanie Bryant is a graduate student in the toxicology department here at UK. She credits her research as a guiding principle in her career, “From regeneration, to stem cells, to cancer biology is how I got here; I always found stem cell biology really fascinating in that they contribute to so many different processes biologically, from development, to mis-regulation in cancers, to regeneration in some models that I have worked on previously. They are such a fascinating topic to work on.” Currently, she researches cancer biology, “Our projects tend to work on how intestinal hormones can contribute to colon cancer. I investigate what increases these intestinal hormones and how treatments can be developed to hopefully mitigate their effects on colon cancer. Stephanie described how she had to work hard as a woman in STEM, “Aside from my interest in the field, as a woman you have to prove yourself in fields like this, and I really wanted to do that; to prove I was able to do it. I came from an educational background that wasn’t necessarily in the molecular or cancer biology field, I came from an ecological and evolutionary background, and so even as I first began this career path I wasn’t as prepared as I could have been, but I wanted to prove I could do it. Being a woman in the field and with my educational background I wanted to show that with enough hard work I could do it anyway. Trying to prove yourself against the odds and against perceptions is why I stuck with it, even though I often considered picking another field, I would come back to the fact that I could do it, even if I had to work harder.” She finds it incredibly important to integrate diversity in STEM, “The importance of women, or really any racial or ethnic diversity, in the field comes from the fact that people from different backgrounds and experiences often bring different perspectives and unique approaches to solving problems. There are a lot of problems to be solved in science, medicine, and engineering, and there always will be. By not promoting diversity there is a lot of untapped potential in problem solving. Collaboration from different people is what will drive science forward; having more women in the field and having more diversity in general brings people together and brings more strength to problem solving.” Her advice for women pursuing STEM is to radiate confidence, “Confidence is really important, knowing that you might have to work harder, and not avoiding a field you are passionate about because you will have to work harder at it, and having the confidence to know that if you work hard enough you can do it. It’s not necessarily about how smart you are, but it is how hard you work.” She believes her position in STEM is many things among being a scientist, “Being a woman in STEM is different than being a man in STEM in that there are more layers. As a man in STEM you can be a scientist, you can be a doctor. But for a woman such as myself, in addition to working towards being a scientist or professor or wherever I end up, I also have to think about what my career path says to other women, young girls in particular. I have an extra responsibility to reach out to young women and encourage them to work hard and succeed in science, and to let them know there is a place for them in science. Women in STEM, in general, have that extra role in addition to all their other responsibilities.” Stephanie advises young women to advocate for themselves, “You have to be able to promote for yourself, to advocate for yourself, talk about your successes and what you bring to the table, wherever you may go.”
Campus Representative: Hannah Thompson