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Mixing up scientific stereotypes: encouraging diversity within STEM industries

For some Western students, the image that comes to mind for a scientist or an engineer is a nerdy man in a lab coat, or Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory. These stereotypes, however, are not always true in real life, and Western’s STEM program held an event to try to eliminate those common assumptions. 

Senior Katherine Winchell (right) shares a Tribble, a creature from "Star Trek," with senior Rachel Owen (left) on Thursday, Nov. 12, at the STEM Mix It Up: Science In Pop Culture event in the Viking Union Multi-Purpose Room. Winchell helped organize this event, aimed at showing diversity in scientific fields, and also tabled for Western's Comic Con club. // Photo by Christina Becker
Senior Katherine Winchell (right) shares a Tribble, a creature from “Star Trek,” with senior Rachel Owen (left) on Thursday, Nov. 12, at the STEM Mix It Up: Science In Pop Culture event in the Viking Union Multi-Purpose Room. Winchell helped organize this event, aimed at showing diversity in scientific fields, and also tabled for WesternCon. // Photo by Christina Becker

Students interested in science, technology, engineering and mathematics met for the third annual STEM Mix It Up event to address diversity of science in pop culture on Thursday, Nov. 12.

The STEM program picked the theme in order to show people that science isn’t just for those who look like Doc Brown from Back to the Future, STEM Diversity and Outreach Specialist Regina Barber DeGraaff said.

“I want to be all-inclusive and help the populations that aren’t being represented in STEM,” she said.

The event brought together the various organizations promoting scientific diversity on Western’s campus, Barber DeGraaff said.

Association of Women in Science, Society for the Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science, Association of Women in Computing and Women in Physics are a few of the clubs on Western’s campus focused on diversifying STEM, Barber DeGraaff said.

Mix It Up featured a panel discussion of local scientists. It was led by Western staff, including math professor Stephanie Treneer, electrical engineering professor John Lund, local biologist Jeanette Lim and geology and physics professor Melissa Rice.

Rice always thought science was for boys, she said. It wasn’t until watching the movie “Contact” when she ,was a teenager that she realized she wanted to study science. This was the first science-fiction film she saw with a woman scientist as the main character.

“If you asked a group of children to draw a scientist, 99 percent of them would draw someone who looked like Doc Brown,” Rice said.

Television and movies typically portray only one type of scientist, senior computer science major Kendra De Groot said.

In The Big Bang Theory, almost every scientist is a nerdy guy who plays Dungeons and Dragons, De Groot said. People need to know that this is not what all scientists look like, she said.

Senior Jordan Robinson is a math major and attended the event as a volunteer with the Western Association of Mathematics. No one should be deterred from STEM because they think they are bad at math or science, Robinson said. 

Curiosity drives STEM. Anyone who is curious can be a part of STEM, no matter their background. It is what drives students to look further into what they are learning, De Groot said.

*Editor’s Note: The original article contained an error regarding the name of WesternCon.

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