Katrina Lee, News Editor
Na’Kera Richardson addressed an audience at the “Women in STEM: A Panel Discussion,” speaking frankly about her experiences in science classes when she was younger.
“I never saw anyone like me. All my science teachers were white or men, and that made me want to go into STEM,” Richardson said.
Women make up only 28% of the workforce in science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM. Men vastly outnumber women majoring in most STEM fields in college, according to the American Association of University Women.
Richardson is the director of operations for “Girls For A Change,” an organization dedicated to empowering Black girls in central Virginia to visualize their futures. She was one of the five panelists who spoke about their individual and shared experiences in STEM.
The “Women in STEM: A Panel Discussion” event took place March 15 in the Virginia room located in the VCU Student Commons. The panel included both women studying STEM and professionals in STEM-related industries.
Sheila Hernandez-Rubio, a health physical education and exercise science student and the secretary of the Society of Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in STEM, was also one of the panelists.
“I am a first generation student and had to grow up really quickly. My parents came to this country so I could get a really good education, and the fact that my parents did that for me really energizes me,” Hernandez-Rubio said.
Hernandez-Rubio said she was pushed by one of her mentors throughout her career to be outspoken as a woman in a STEM field due to the competitiveness in the industry and how women are often overlooked.
“He did encourage me to use my voice because he said people would assume I didn’t have one,” Hernandez-Rubio said.
The panel discussion was one of many events the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs has put together to prompt discussion about women in society. Other events include discussions on body image, female representation in male-dominated fields and artistic performances by women.
Women’s History Month is a celebration of women’s contributions to history, culture and society. It has been recognized every March in the United States since 1987, according to history.com.
The Office of Multicultural Student Affairs offers “diversity, inclusion and social justice dialogues, presentations, and workshops, cultural heritage month events,” according to its website. The office often sponsors events and discussions for popular cultural heritage months.
Brandi Daniels, the OMSA graduate assistant for diversity & inclusion education and advocacy, organized and hosted the event. She said this was the first “Women In STEM: A Panel Discussion” OMSA has put together and said she hopes it becomes an annual event that showcases women who are thriving in STEM.
Daniels said the office puts on events every cultural heritage month to uplift the voices and narratives of people who are marginalized in society.
“We hope that with each group that may feel as though that they are marginalized, we want them to know that they are valued and that we see them,” Daniels said. “That of course, also is for everyone. We’re hoping to bridge the communication between different groups of people, create dialogue, and of course, possible unity from the events.”
More events sponsored by OMSA are scheduled for the rest of Women’s History Month. Upcoming events include “Womxn of RVA” on Thursday, March 24; “Pay Me, Don’t Play Me” on Tuesday, March 29; and “Being My Own Boss: Redefining Career Paths” on Wednesday, March 30.
Stephanie Bagby, electrical engineer and program manager for renewable energy at Dominion Energy, was also one of the panelists. She said many times in her career she heard people say the reason she got to where she was in her career is because she is an African American woman.
“The truth is that you can’t come to the table if you have nothing to offer,” Bagby said.
Bagby also said one of her goals in the industry is to offer mentorship and advice to other women who want to enter the STEM field.
“It is on us to pay it forward, to help the girls behind us,” Bagby said.