By Erica K. Brockmeier
Alexa Murray, a senior studying systems engineering from Greenwich, Connecticut, attended the first-ever Girls Advancing in STEM (GAINS) conference in 2015, and has seen firsthand the Initiative’s importance, both as a student and now as a mentor. Murray says that GAINS helped her see the “different types of people who are engineers” and was a key source of inspiration, thanks to its mentorship opportunities. “It’s hearing about other people’s challenges, recognizing that I’m also struggling with this concept or with imposter syndrome, but that other people are as well and here’s how they dealt with it,” says Murray.
Last week, Penn hosted the GAINS 2019 conference, with Murray serving as a student volunteer. She was one of nearly two dozen STEM role models: female faculty, staff, and student volunteers from Penn who welcomed more than 100 high school students and 30 teachers from the country to the conference. The event included two days of activities designed to encourage young women to see a career in STEM as an achievable goal.
After kicking off the conference with an evening welcome dinner and keynote by Frances Elizabeth Jensen, the first full day was filled with networking sessions, panel discussions, and campus tours to showcase the many ways that young women can become involved in STEM. Thursday’s panel featured Penn’s Lisa Akhtar, Danielle Bassett, Michelle Johnson, Kellie Jurado, and Sharon Lewis, who shared their personal experiences and answered questions from students.
Key takeaways from the panelists include the importance of having mentors, focusing on improving one’s self instead of making comparisons to others, and embracing failure. “We all made decisions to quit 10 times, 10,000 times. Don’t be afraid of those encounters,” said Johnson, adding that the “P” for her in Ph.D. stood for “perseverance.”
Akhtar, who was the first person in her family to go to college, shared how her career trajectory changed after working in a research lab inspired her to enroll into an M.D./Ph.D. program. She encouraged attendees to not see their careers as a single destination. “Don’t be afraid of the journey,” she said. “As long as you love what you do every day, it doesn’t matter what your title is or what people think what you should be in life.”
Johnson and Lewis shared challenges they faced as women of color. Their advice to students facing racism and sexism is to remind themselves that they are doing good work. “Be aware that people might make judgement calls,” said Lewis. “It’s not about you but about them. Know in your gut that you belong.”
Continue reading at Penn Today.