The University at Buffalo played host Thursday to a series of sessions aimed at further encouraging involvement by girls and women in the so-called STEM fields.
Getting girls and young women interested and involved in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields is only part of the challenge. Panelists speaking at UB Thursday also discussed how women can network more effectively to advance in the STEM realm.
"It's really as mentors connecting them with other folks that can help them," said Dr. Norma Nowak, Executive Director of the New York State Center of Excellence in Bioinformatics and Life Sciences and one of the panelists. "How do you get your brand out there? How do you make people understand what you do, and that you have value?"
So how did Dr. Nowak get her own brand out there? She, and fellow panelist Dr. Rina Eiden both agreed that effective networking includes knowing how to surround one's self with those who complement one's strengths and weaknesses, fostering more collaborative relationships.
"As I progressed up the ranks, I decided there are other things I wanted to do," Dr. Nowak said. "So I started a company, and people told me that would never work. So it was like, well maybe you don't think it's going to work, but it was a matter of connecting with other folks here at the University and using that network to really drive the ideas that I had to found a company."
"In order to develop collaborative relationships, it's really important to know what your own expertise is and identify people who have complementary strengths, and sort of build from there," added Dr. Eisen, who is a Senior Research Scientist with the Research Institute on Addictions at UB.
Women have contributed significantly to STEM fields. Katherine Johnson and Sally Ride were both prominent contributors to the space program. Rear Admiral Grace Murray Cooper's best-known contribution in the computer programming field is development of the language COBOL. Rosalind Franklin is known for work which helped create a better understanding of the structure of DNA.
Those are just a handful of examples of women who have left important legacies in STEM and yet, according to federal statistics, women hold less than 25 percent of STEM jobs in the U.S., even though they make up nearly 50 percent of the overall workforce.
"Part of the job we need to do is held young women understand that they really can do anything," said Dr. Nowak. "They are no different than a man in many ways. I think we have skill sets that, if the world were run by women, I sometimes think it would be a much better place."