IIT AGNE, the IIT Alumni Association of New England held a panel discussion titled Women Advancing STEM on April 16, 2016 at the Cambridge Innovation Center in Cambridge, MA. The panel was moderated by Rita Advani and featured
Chitra Javdekar, Dean of STEM, Mass Bay Community College
Kathy Vandiver, Director of the Community Outreach Education and Engagement Core at the Center for Environmental Health Sciences and
Mondira Pant, Lead Technologist, Intel Corp.
The event opened with a welcome note by Ranjani Saigal, who shared information about IIT AGNE and the upcoming leadership conference on Aug 12-14. IIT AGNE, an organization that was started by IIT Alumni, who drawing on their own background and experience in the STEM fields and realizing the importance of STEM education and awareness for the future of the country, created the organization to work within the greater New England community, amongst other things, to help raise awareness of the importance of STEM education and careers within the economy. The organization is not limited to IITians but welcomes everyone who may be interested in STEM.
“At IIT we had very few women. While our numbers are limited, many of the IIT Alumni have gone on to create great impact in a multitude of fields. We are here today to celebrate the accomplishments of Women in STEM and discuss opportunities and challenges for women in the field of STEM” said Saigal. IIT AGNE is hosting a leadership conference on Aug 12-14 in Rhode Island. Here is the link to the event. http://www.iitagne.org/. Mondira Pant is the co-chair of the IIT AGNE event. Other core team members of the women's panel include Dr. Rukmini Vijaykumar and Durriya Doctor.
Rita Advani, the Director for Regional Programming for High Touch High Tech of New England moderated the panel. Each panelist spoke about their journey and talked about how being a woman has been an opportunity and a challenge. Each journey outlined the influence of mentors in the life of the speakers. For most it was their father who encouraged them to become an engineer. The panelists discussed the challenge of often being a minority and them needing to work harder than their peers. There were other stories on the positive side of how women could network with women at other institutions to have very productive projects.
The panelists felt strongly that girls in middle school are very important target for STEM educators. Kathy Vandervier used her experience as a science teacher to later on develop LEGO models that could easily explain the concept of DNA to younger students. Chitra Javdekar talked about the courses at community colleges, which could be an excellent opportunity for women who may consider switching into STEM careers. She also cautioned that a STEM career may not be the right option for every girl.
There were many youngsters who had a range of questions from how to engage in research and how to find internship opportunities in the STEM field. There was a health discussion at the end of the session on how work place rules and attitudes can change to be more accommodative of women who may need to take maternity leave.
The discussions clearly indicated that there is much that still needs to be done if women need to play a larger role in the STEM field.