Inspirational Women in STEM and Tech: “Speak up; Too often, women hold back or wait to contribute to a discussion until it’s too late” with Angela Bauer, Dean at High Point University
Speak up. Too often, women hold back or wait to contribute to a discussion until it’s too late or until their thoughts are 100% formulated and tidily wrapped with a nice pretty bow. That’s typically not how men operate, and if you wait that long, the conversation at a meeting may have already moved on and you will have missed your chance. Speak up. Your ideas matter. You don’t have to be perfect.
As a part of my series about “Lessons From Inspirational Women in STEM and Tech”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Angela Bauer, founding dean of the Wanek School of Natural Sciences at High Point University.
Bauer has been a member of High Point University’s faculty since 2013 and is the founding dean of the Wanek School of Natural Sciences. She has taught courses in endocrinology and women’s health and leads the new Wanek School of Natural Sciences, an anchor for of High Point University’s Innovation Corridor that represents a $250 million investment in faculty, technology and facilities that foster the university’s STEM programs.
Bauer is an accomplished scientist who has demonstrated leadership throughout her career, including in High Point University’s Department of Biology, which she previously chaired. She was instrumental in developing the university’s Quality Enhancement Plan, which fosters a growth mindset for students in all aspects of academic, professional and personal growth and is committed to High Point University’s mission of preparing students for the world as it is going to be.
In August 2018, Bauer was awarded the Extraordinary Leadership Award at High Point University’s Convocation Ceremony, recognizing her extraordinary leadership and contributions that advance the excellence of the university.
Bauer has a Bachelor of Arts in psychology and neuroscience from Lawrence University in Wisconsin, a Ph.D. in neuroscience from Northwestern University, and conducted postdoctoral studies at Harvard Medical School. Before coming to High Point University, she worked at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay and was awarded the University of Wisconsin System’s Diversity Award for inclusive classroom practices that closed the achievement gap between majority and underrepresented students in introductory science courses.
Research in Bauer’s laboratory focuses on the potential health effects of exposure to endocrine disruptors. She also conducts research in the field of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) around the impact of active learning strategies on academic performance and engagement within the science classroom.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I found my career path due to excellence in mentoring. As an undergraduate, I was fascinated by my science courses, but also uncertain as to whether or not my contributions as a female would be welcomed or valued. Thankfully, I was fortunate enough to have great mentors who took intentional steps to acknowledge my performance and identify opportunities for me to gain hands-on experience throughout my undergraduate education. One professor, in particular, played an integral role in my decision to pursue a Ph.D. in the sciences upon completion of my bachelor’s degree. This truly changed the path of my career and my future, and I am forever grateful for the mentors that supported and encouraged me throughout my education and in my professional career.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began at your company?
One of my most fascinating experiences at High Point University has been engaging in the design process for our undergraduate natural sciences facility. For nearly three years, department chairs and faculty worked with architects and facilities personnel to envision a facility that was not just beautiful, but innovative and entirely student-focused. We brought our big dreams to the table, and after various iterations, the architects made it a reality. Giving proper attention to detail in the design process while maintaining our overarching vision was both painstaking and exhilarating. In the end, we ended up with one of the most state-of-the-art and innovative undergraduate science facilities in the nation. The experience stretched my skillset and instilled in me an appreciation for the art and science of building design.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
As the former department chair of biology at High Point University, I was responsible for providing staffing requirements and recommendations. Coming from a different environment, I was conservative with my initial request and asked for a mere two positions. A week later, I saw my provost at a meeting, and he pulled me aside, stating that he had concerns about my position requests and wanted to talk more with me. I immediately assumed I had asked for too much and regretted my bold move. As it turns out, the opposite was true. His concern was that I had asked for too few positions and was still open to accepting requests from my program. At High Point University, we are committed to innovation and providing the resources needed to serve our students and our programs. I learned a big lesson that day. Always ask for what you need, and always boldly advocate for the people that you serve.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Our student-centered, holistic approach to higher education is unmatched. Our programs and our faculty address not only the cognitive aspects of learning, but also the affective side of learning. Our institution understands that in order to learn deeply, students must feel confident that they are capable of continuous growth and intellectual development, that their faculty believe in them and feel that they are capable of success, that challenges make them stronger, and that they are a part of a community that values and supports them. By instilling in students a growth mindset and strong professional identity, they are able to learn more deeply and graduate from our programs as confident, poised, intellectually engaged individuals.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Right now, we are finishing up a project that measures the impact of growth mindset messaging on student academic performance in our science classrooms. We have found that when our faculty send weekly growth mindset messages to students — messages that lead students to view intelligence not as fixed, but capable of growth in response to effort — that their academic performance improves. We also found that academic performance gaps between underrepresented minority students and white students are significantly narrowed or closed in response to growth mindset messaging. Thus, we plan to implement this approach on a broader scale, in order to enhance the academic performance of all students and to foster inclusivity within our programs. We are hopeful that improved academic outcomes in response to this classroom approach will lead to a greater diversity of students pursuing majors in the natural sciences and ultimately pursuing careers as scientists.
Ok super. Thank you for all that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. Are you currently satisfied with the status quo regarding women in STEM? What specific changes do you think are needed to change the status quo?
We’ve had pockets of success but there are also opportunities for improvement. Some disciplines, like biology, have achieved or are close to achieving gender equity in terms of numbers of undergraduate degrees and advanced degrees awarded. In these disciplines, however, we have not yet achieved equity in terms of women holding positions of power in the upper echelons of science. Some disciplines, like physics, have not yet achieved parity even at the undergraduate level. We need to continue to challenge existing institutional structures that are biased and — at a fundamental level — change the climate we foster in our classrooms. Teaching inclusively — and also addressing climate issues in terms of how students interact with faculty in the classroom and with one another — is a great place to start in those disciplines that are most challenged with equity issues.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women in STEM or Tech that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts? What would you suggest to address this?
In my opinion, the biggest challenge women face in STEM is not unique to STEM, and that is juggling caregiving responsibilities for children and/or aging parents while managing their careers. While many men also face this challenge, the reality is that the bulk of these responsibilities still falls on women. Ideally, this challenge would be addressed by our society assuming a more equitable distribution of care responsibilities among family members. Until that time, women (and men) supporting other women who are experiencing periods of challenge with respect to family life can make a world of difference. Flexibility in work schedules and a supportive work environment can also make a huge difference.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a woman in STEM or Tech. Can you explain what you mean?
One big myth I’d like to dispel is that being a woman in STEM or tech is going to be a lonely, arduous path. For the vast majority of women, the opposite is true! There are so many good people in any profession who are willing to share their wisdom and mentorship and support you on your path. Be intentional about finding them and once you do, learn from them and pass it on to someone else once you are in a position to do so. Also, be yourself and have fun with your co-workers and students! Some of the greatest moments of hilarity in my life have happened at the lab bench, swapping stories and commiserating with coworkers as we carried out our day-to-day experiments. Enjoy the journey.
What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience as a Woman in STEM or Tech” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
1. Your attire matters. Like it or not, it matters, especially for women. Thus, dress for the position you aspire to attain.
2. Speak up. Too often, women hold back or wait to contribute to a discussion until it’s too late or until their thoughts are 100% formulated and tidily wrapped with a nice pretty bow. That’s typically not how men operate, and if you wait that long, the conversation at a meeting may have already moved on and you will have missed your chance. Speak up. Your ideas matter. You don’t have to be perfect.
3. Seek feedback, but be judicious about those from who you seek it. I’ve had great mentors and cheerleaders in my career who have provided candid feedback that has made me a better leader. I’ve also received (and put too much weight on) feedback from those who are biased about my ability to lead as a woman or who are jealous of my success.
4. Be a mentor, every day. One of the best ways to positively shift a culture is to nurture it in the up and coming leaders.
5. Take time to regroup and recharge when you need it. It will help you stay focused and positive and help you to maintain the energy you need to inspire others and move your program forward.
What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?
Find the value in each team member and celebrate that value openly and frequently. There is no greater way to get buy-in and to motivate people.
What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?
Determine your message or game plan, reiterate it frequently, and stick to it consistently. Listen to feedback, be evidence-based and tweak the plan if necessary. Openly laud team members for their contributions.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
My neuroscience professor, Dr. Bruce Hetzler, had a huge influence on my commitment to mentorship and on my inclusive leadership style. He acknowledged my performance in his courses during my sophomore year and encouraged me to hone my skills by conducting research in his lab. He also encouraged me to pursue a Ph.D. in the sciences upon completion of my bachelor’s degree. That experience was a game-changer for my career path and I will forever be grateful to him for his inclusive approach to teaching and science. His example has had a huge influence on my commitment to mentorship and on my inclusive leadership style.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I entered science at a time when women in my discipline were significantly underrepresented. I have used those experiences — and continue to honor those who mentored me on my path — to heighten my awareness to the experiences of underrepresented groups and to always take intentional steps to promote an inclusive environment, for both students and faculty.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
Be a mentor, every day. Fill the world with people who will make it a better place.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“When you learn, teach. When you get, give,” by Maya Angelou. This pretty much sums up my commitment to mentorship and leading in a way that inspires people to use their talents, lessons learned, and privilege to make the world a better place. I’ve had so many wonderful people in my life who have supported and mentored me. I am committed to paying it forward, and try every day to put the message in this quote into action.
We are very blessed that very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them :-)
I would love a private conversation with Dr. Jennifer Doudna, who co-developed CRISPR, a genome-editing technology that has the likelihood to transform the way we treat a variety of human conditions. The conversation would be enlightening and stimulating not only from a scientific standpoint, but also from the standpoint of learning from a woman who has weathered gender-related challenges in the sciences and who thinks deeply about ethics in science.