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Conference focuses on topics related to women in STEM fields

The University of Hawaii at Hilo’s inaugural Women in STEM Conference drew dozens of students and faculty to the Campus Center on Tuesday.

Hosted by the Tropical Conservation Biology and Environmental Science MATERS club, the UH-Hilo Women’s Center and the Office of Equal Opportunity, the daylong event featured speakers and discussion panels on a variety of topics related to women working in science, technology, engineering and math — or STEM — fields, including the importance of mentorship, retainment, sexual harassment, the gender wage gap and others.

Just before lunch, for instance, the topic turned to the complexity of mental health for women in STEM with a presentation from a mental health counselor.

Jennifer Stotter, director of the Office of Equal Opportunity, who attended the conference Tuesday, said women still tend to be under-represented in STEM fields, so it’s essential to talk about barriers to employment and compensation.

“We’re not going to change the disparities by not talking about it,” she said. “We have to talk about things so we recognize what our challenges are and what steps you have to take to overcome them.”

One of the event’s organizers, Karen Gallardo, a student in the TCBES graduate program, said she had an initial idea for a roundtable discussion with professors to discuss their experiences as women in STEM.

“That came up because I’ve always wondered how do people do it? How do you manage doing all this academic work and teaching and taking care of your family and all those different things,” she said. “So I always tend to ask people personally what they do, but I thought it would be beneficial for others to hear as well.”

When the idea of a daylong event was introduced, she shared the idea with fellow TCBES student Ashley Pugh. They connected with undergraduate student Megan Hillery with the university’s Women’s Center, “and it all took off from there,” Gallardo said.

The goal, she said, was to educate other women and themselves, share common experiences, build new relationships and mentorship “and for people to leave here educated and empowered.”

“I definitely think that the idea of the conference was to sort of bring everyone together and try to connect them on a level of celebrating women, but also understanding the difficulties we do go through based on our gender,” Hillery said.

Learning from others’ experiences and hearing that someone might have the same questions as another person is helpful in “getting a sense of we’re in this together,” Pugh said. “You’re not alone, even if you have experienced terrible moments.”

Gallardo said she thinks women can sometimes be too competitive with one another.

“Instead of lifting each other up we tear each other down, and I feel like creating a space where we can be supportive of each other is the beginning of seeing more of that support,” she said.

This is the first year for the conference, but there’s already anticipation for the future.

“There’s been a lot of enthusiasm coming from the people that we asked to come talk,” Pugh said, adding she heard faculty who didn’t have the chance to participate this year want to do so in the future.

“That’s really cool,” she said. “We’re hoping that it will turn into a yearly thing.”

That’s a hope shared by Marina Karides, a professor and chairwoman of the university’s sociology department who spoke Tuesday about her research.

“I hope it becomes an annual event and I would like to see my men colleagues, faculty at this event,” she said. “… The thing is the situation affects us all, and so everybody needs to be here to address it.”

Chariya Terlep-Cabatbat, a student majoring in sociology and administration of justice and minoring in gender studies, shared those sentiments and said it’s important to have these discussions and to get men involved as well.

For her, the biggest take away from the day was seeing the support women have for one another, as well as the support men in attendance have for women.

“It makes me have a stronger sense of hope and faith,” she said.

Email Stephanie Salmons at ssalmons@hawaiitribune-herald.com.
Source: Hawaii Tribune Herald

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