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UMass Lowell WAVES event eliminates STEM bias

Dr. Pamela Conrad from NASA speaking about diversifying STEM careers. (Jessica Kergo/Connector)

Jessica Kergo
Connector Staff

Dr. Pamela Conrad, deputy private investigator and investigative scientist for sample analysis at Mars on the Mars Science Laboratory mission was the keynote speaker on Feb. 2 at the Making WAVES, or Women Academics Valued and Engaged in STEM kickoff event.

Dr. Conrad drew a profound link between scientific exploration and the critical need for diversified STEM fields in her address “Wanted: 21st Century Explorers.”

Dr. Conrad contributed to the cause as a highly successful NASA astrobiologist by offering her perspective through personal experience as a female investigative scientist so often surrounded by men. She said that older perceptions of women and minorities need to be left in the past because “we need diversity in our ecosystem.” She said that “every time we other someone, we are diminishing our system.”

Understanding other people is vital when working in a team of scientists controlling the actions of the Mars Rover said Dr. Conrad. “Justice is expensive, but injustice is going to be much more expensive.”

The Making WAVES kickoff was the first of four spring 2017 events for the recent UMass Lowell Center for Women and Work initiative. The center has recently received a five year $3.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation to implement their effort to increase diversity and inclusion in STEM fields and foster a supportive and institutional culture for all.

When addressing the crowd of students and faculty members gathered in Alumni Hall, Chancellor Jacquie Moloney said, “There is a direct need to diversify the field of science and engineering,” and that this recent grant would enable them to achieve that goal.

The effort plans to address what it refers to as subtle biases within the STEM fields that discourage woman and minority groups from perusing an education or career in one of these male dominated fields.

Freshman math major Lillian Kuehl expressed her take on what it was like to start her college career in a male dominated field. “When I went to orientation, it was kind of intimidating being surrounded only by guys, but it never made me doubt myself,” said Kuehl.

Lindsey Schulman, a graduate student studying biopsychology, had similar opinions and said how important efforts like these are “because they show how women can contribute despite being in a male dominated field.”

The effort involves a three-part intervention program for what is being referred to as an institutional transformation that includes disruption of subtle biases, providing alternative support mechanisms, and promoting equity and accountability.

Before the event began, biotechnology graduate student, Rachel Master, said how significant efforts like these are. “People, especially in my culture, don’t necessarily see women in this field, so seeing this is really helpful and encouraging,” she said.

Chancellor Moloney’s hope that the entire community would join the effort was well received as members from various departments across the University were of attendance at the kickoff event.
Among them was Dean of Education Anita Greenwood. “We always have a duty to our students to help them learn how to stand up for themselves,” she said.

The initiative will continue this semester with a 50/50 Lecture Series and a Provost’s Speaker Series, all surrounding the topic of eliminating bias with STEM fields.

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