Making Room For Women Of Color in STEM
The students grasped their soldering irons with sweaty shaking hands as they attempted to melt metal onto the heart-shaped circuit boards in small exacting pinpoints. Keeping close as possible to their iron, white puffs of smoke rose to their faces as they tried not to inhale the potentially harmful fumes of burning metal.
Some failed. To others, the art of soldering came naturally.
Even still, the women enjoyed themselves, laughing while they watched their friends and newly-made acquaintances attempt to solder. The peer mentors reminded them that the purpose was simply to expose them to a new skill.
The LED Heart DIY workshop was hosted by the Women in STEM and Intersectional Feminist Alliance, in an effort to introduce more women of color to engineering.
STEM tutors Mel Avina-Beltran and Monica Campos led the event by introducing the objective of the workshop. Their goals? Do cool stuff, meet new people, and have fun.
Saba Solomon, a film major, found out about the workshop through Instagram. She attended the event to support prioritizing marginalized women in a field that is not necessarily geared towards them.
“It’s uncomfortable being in those upper-level classes, but when you’re surrounded by people who look like you it’s more welcoming," Solomon said. “It’s a very white male-dominated major, even when you are there it’s still difficult.”
It can be challenging to study subjects outside of a student’s comfort zone, especially with topics such as mechanical structure and electronic skills.
Solomon welcomes students to get exposure in other skills they might have interest in, regardless of major. “Even if STEM doesn’t seem something that is for you, it is a beginner level workshop, so it is not anything intimidating,” Solomon said.
The STEM lab endeavors to make these subjects beginner-friendly and accessible, and it encourages students to seriously consider continuing their higher education within the STEM program.
Avina-Beltran, co-founder of Women in STEM, urges all students of color to utilize the resources the STEM Lab offers, which includes free tutoring, peer mentoring, internships and scholarships.
While SMC faculty prides itself on being a supportive and accessible environment, Avina-Beltran criticized the lack of outreach they promote, challenging them to act on their support rather than offering words of encouragement.
“I’m tired of going to spaces with all these guys and having them to take up all this space,” she said, reflecting on the lack of minorities in STEM. “They have those undocumented ally workshops which are super fake. Faculty will go through those trainings to hear undocumented student experiences just to cry and get a sticker that says, ‘I’m an undocumented ally.’ But did you give them money? Did you help them with legal resources? Here we really do provide you with resources and support to succeed in your field. The peer mentors, advisors, and counselors help you with resumes, to find internships that actually fund and pay you.”
In 2015 the National Science Foundation conducted a study on the science and engineering labor force. It showed that, while women make up half of the U.S. college workforce, only 28% are in science and engineering occupations. Among the science and engineering female workforce, 63% are white.
“We have the freedom and ability to organize and lead workshops on whatever we want. My focus is to create spaces and content for black and brown women to exist, to focus on themselves, and see themselves succeeding.”
The STEM Lab is located on the 3rd floor of Drescher Hall. It offers free tutoring in Math, Chemistry, Biology, Computer Science, Physics, Engineering, and Anthropology, and is open to anyone regardless of their major.
The STEM program is currently accepting applications, available at smc.edu/STEM. The deadline to apply is May 13 at 11:59 pm.