Exploring the intersections of STEM

By Emilee Kyle

When you hear the word “scientist,” you might think of someone in a lab coat, wearing goggles and using a beaker, not a fashion-forward female rapper. The science, technology, engineering and mathematics programs at Western are trying to fight that narrative.

On Thursday Nov. 8, Western’s STEM programs hosted the sixth annual Mix IT Up gathering in the Wade King Student Recreation Center with the mission of promoting intersectionality between the arts and sciences.

Apart from tables dedicated to different STEM clubs, there was a photo booth, bongo drums, liquid nitrogen ice cream and a rap performance by Enongo Lumumba-Kasongo, known as SAMMUS, who is an artist, producer and PhD student at Cornell University.

Lumumba-Kasongo grew up in Ithaca, New York and later got her bachelor’s in sociology and science and technology studies at Cornell University. She said in her free time she would make music in her dorm room.

In the field of science and technology studies, Lumumba-Kasongo said she is focused on studying the biases that might be associated with how information is produced in the scientific community. She said she is like an anthropologist who studies scientists and their work.

“We are really focused on peeling apart the layers when it comes to the politics that govern and decide what we study, what we learn and what we don’t learn,” Lumumba-Kasongo said. “For so long there has been this assumption that science is completely objective.”

The MAC gym filled with students from a variety of STEM backgrounds to connect with other students. // Photo by Kenzie Mahoskey

All 12 STEM-focused clubs at Western helped host the Mix IT Up event, including the Association for Women in Computing. Lorraine Wong is a member of the association and a double major in computer science and Chinese. She said her two majors are on completely opposite sides of the spectrum when it comes to academic studies.

“What we hope to achieve is to create diversity within STEM,” Wong said. “A lot of people think of STEM people as a certain stereotype but Mix IT Up helps show people that anybody can be a scientist.”

Lumumba-Kasongo said she was able to combine her love of art, music and science by studying sound synthesizers and history in her classes. She said she also utilizes these skills to help make beats for her songs.

“I was amazed that you could study music and think about sound outside of a music department,” she said. “I wasn’t formally trained as a musician so I put that out of my mind, but now there [is] this whole new possibility of looking at sound technology.”

Lumumba-Kasongo said she always likes to have conversations with her audiences about what her songs are about. She said she doesn’t want the music to only be about her beats or rhymes because the content of her songs are just as important to her.

Lumumba-Kasongo raps about many different topics ranging from cyberbullying and depression to feminism and diversity.

“[Music] made me find my own voice, and I want to encourage others to do that too, and to lean into the things that make you happy,” she said. “That will ultimately open doors into spaces you didn’t think were open to you before.”

Junior Ryssa Parka, double major in biology and geology, is a member of Biology Club. She said she also has a background in art and enjoys unique events like Mix IT Up because she can see people and ideas from many different fields colliding in one space.

“Everyone is getting together and it’s like the biggest STEM event of the year, I’d say, and I just really enjoy it,” Parks said.

Junior biology major Aaron Helms, also a member of Biology Club, stood at the club’s booth for the duration of the night. He greeted attendees as they approached the two dissected squids the club had on display. As people leaned over the table, club members showed the different parts of the squid and explained their functions.

Students from Western’s biology club showed interested students the different parts of a dissected squid. // Photo by Kenzie Mahoskey

“Biology is almost like a form of art in a natural way,” Helms said. “Even looking at this squid here, it’s kind of beautiful in its own way.”

Lumumba-Kasongo said events like Mix IT Up are remarkable because they help show students that there are people who support them and their intersecting interests.

“Not every institution cares enough about their students to put something like this together with all these resources behind it,” she said. “I want you all to recognize the power of your community, the people next to you that are here, because they care.”

For more information about SAMMUS and her music, visit https://sammusmusic.com/.
For more information about inclusion within STEM fields at Western, visit https://cse.wwu.edu/stem-inclusion-outreach.

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