Why STEM needs a community to succeed

University of Maryland Baltimore-County president, students discuss STEM at U.S. News conference

stem-conference-educationWashington, DC — When journalist Judy Woodruff was in college, she wanted to be a mathematician, but a professor discouraged her from pursuing math as a career.

“He thought women had no place in advanced mathematics,” Woodruff recalled during the opening keynote of U.S. News and World Report‘s STEM SOLUTIONS conference Wednesday.

She instead studied political science, a move that worked in her favor, leading her to one day co-anchor PBS Newshour. But the sting of his dismissal remains, and she wonders how many other young women have been told the same thing.

Woodruff brought up the recollection while moderating a discussion between Freeman Hrabowski, the president of University of Maryland-Baltimore County, and three STEM students.

STEM (which stands for science, technology, engineering, and math) fields are notorious for their lack of female and minority practitioners, and Hrabowski is renowned for his work in addressing the issue. The students chosen to join him and Woodruff on stage represented UMBC’s work in encouraging under-represented students to pursue STEM majors.

Dalton Hughes is studying chemical engineering, Mitchel Zavala is studying mechanical engineering, and Lauren Mazzoli is studying computer science and mathematics.

Mazzoli said she was not met with the kind of resistance Woodruff experienced, and instead found an encouraging faculty. Most encouraging, however, she said, has been seeing and interacting with female faculty.

“It’s about the community,” Mazzoli said when asked why she has stuck with STEM when many other students change majors.

(Next page: Why community is key)

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