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Stony Brook Breaks Down Barriers for Women in Science

As seen in The Chronicle of Higher Education
June 18, 2019

When Anna Goldberg read the agenda for a women’s science leadership conference at Stony Brook University last spring, she knew instantly that she wanted to attend. Goldberg had graduated from Stony Brook in 2009 with a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering and in 2012 with a master’s in chemistry. But when she entered the workforce, she wasn’t expecting some of the treatment she as a woman scientist would receive.


Ann Lin graduated 2018 from SBU with double major in biochemistry and economics

Ann Lin graduated in 2018 with a double major in biochemistry and economics.

She remembers how, early in her career, she had offered a suggestion during a meeting and her male co-workers brushed it off. Later, when a male colleague suggested the same idea, the others said it was good. It was not the only time, nor the last time, she has felt undervalued in the workplace.

At the conference, Goldberg heard similar stories from other women in science, and learned new strategies for dealing with unequal treatment and how to gain influence in a business setting. She left feeling energized, empowered and connected.

“Stony Brook gave me a great education and a lot of skills I needed to be in the workforce,” she said. “But I still need an extra boost as a woman in science — to get higher pay, more opportunities.”

Ensuring Success

Stony Brook wants to ensure that women like Goldberg can be successful in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) — fields in which women are statistically underrepresented. As one of New York’s top public universities and a flagship of the State University of New York, the University is building supportive pathways for women in STEM beginning in middle school, continuing through college and extending beyond graduation. This support will ensure that women’s skills, expertise and perspectives are equally present and valued in the rapidly growing STEM job market. The University is particularly well-positioned for the task because it has long been focused on STEM and dedicated to fostering diversity and inclusion.

Its Women in Science & Engineering (WISE) program, created in 1993, is perhaps one of its most expansive initiatives. The program’s middle school component, called TechPREP, brings as many as 100 sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade girls from local high-needs school districts to the campus to learn about computer science, physics and engineering for two weeks every summer. During the academic year, High School WISE, the next level, brings about 110 high school girls to the campus after school to conduct 10 research sessions in laboratories.

“It’s not that we expect them all to become chemical engineers or medical doctors,” said Mónica Bugallo, a professor of electrical and computer engineering and faculty adviser of WISE. “But we do want them to be exposed to what opportunities are available.”

On the college level, young women accepted into the WISE program receive merit-based scholarships, academic help, mentorships and opportunities for research, internships and networking. In Fall 2017, WISE became an honors program with a special curriculum. The University in recent years has increased retention rates for women in the WISE program to 88.6 percent. The increase means 400 additional women will be moving through the University’s engineering program over the next three years.

Celebrating Role Models

Ruchi ShahRuchi Shah is currently a
medical student at Stony Brook.

Stony Brook celebrates its female STEM scholars and scientists as role models and supports them in their endeavors. When Ruchi Shah, who is currently a medical student at Stony Brook, was selected as an undergraduate in 2014 to give a TEDx talk about her accomplishments, she looked to the University’s Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science for coaching on her delivery. The center, established in 2009, seeks to help scientists communicate more effectively with the public.

Shah, who majored in biology and minored in journalism, graduated from Stony Brook in 2016, the same year she was named one of Glamour magazine’s Top 10 College Women. By that time, she already had invented an all-natural mosquito repellent and was conducting cancer research. During her undergraduate years, she took part in Stony Brook’s “Science Unplugged” program through which she visited local high schools to share her passion for science. Encouraging young women is important to Shah. She said she remembers that after giving the TEDx talk, a classmate told her he had an 11-year-old sister.

“He couldn’t wait to go home and show her the video of my talk,” Shah said. “That is why I’m sharing my story.”

The mentorships that Stony Brook professors provide have been invaluable to Ann Lin, who graduated in 2018 with a double major in biochemistry and economics. In 2017, she was named to the “22 Under 22 Most Inspiring College Women” list, released by Her Campus, an online magazine. As an undergraduate, Lin was a Goldwater Scholar, which recognizes outstanding achievements in science. She also won various other awards for her presentations and research. Her mentors included professors in biomedical engineering, molecular genetics, microbiology, biochemistry and cell biology.

“I think they have all played a very unique role in my development — each one of them,” she said. “These are all sequential pieces of the puzzle — and they make me who I am, all of them.”

Sharing and Caring

The University frequently holds special workshops, forums and events for its women in STEM. In March, more than 150 female professors and students attended the School of Medicine’s 12th Women in Medicine Research Day. Participants recognized the achievements of women researchers, discussed issues women face in the medical field and shared their own research. A key panel discussion was titled “Achieving a Successful Career for Women in Medicine.”

The efforts are not limited to the medical school, however. Every two years, Stony Brook’s Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching (CELT) holds a Women’s Leadership Symposium, a one-day event exploring such topics as negotiation strategies, communication skills, health and wellness, and financial responsibility. The program is popular: Typically about 400 women and men attend, roughly 300 from the University and 100 from the community.

“It shows Stony Brook as a whole cares about women and their professional development,” said Patricia Aceves, assistant provost and senior director of CELT. “It’s about supporting women in all aspects of their careers.”

Losing to Isolation

At the same time, many employers are struggling to figure out how more effectively to attract, hire, retain and promote women. Such concerns prompted Stony Brook’s Center for Corporate Education (CCE), which conducts career training and development for local businesses, to hold its first-ever Women in STEM Leadership Program in May 2018.

The three-day conference included sessions and workshops on topics ranging from conflict management to gender bias. Nearly 30 women from pharmaceutical, engineering and other tech-based industries attended, with their employers’ backing and expectation to go back and share what they learned with co-workers. The center has kept in touch with attendees through coaching calls and other events to keep the women connected.

“Women often lose to isolation,” said Patricia Malone, CCE’s executive director. “They’re very often the only woman in the room, and the social connections are just not there. We are building them up and building their connections beyond the walls of their own organizations.”

Stony Brook plans to continue reaching beyond the walls and boundaries of its own campus to support women in STEM, whether they are young girls just finding their way, college students acquiring new skills or talented employees seeking equal treatment.

“Stony Brook is an incredibly agile, vibrant economic engine,” said Malone. “The mission of any academic institution is to prepare people to meet the needs of the global economy — and that definitely includes women.”


Women in STEM LeadershipFor parity. For unity. For community.