Encouraging STEM success for women of color
While women make up a quarter of the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) workforce, African American women make up less than 2 percent.
Many factors contribute to this deficit, but Leyte Winfield, chair of the chemistry department at Spelman College, stressed that to ensure the persistence and success of African American women in STEM, the emphasis should be placed on empowering and supporting them to stay in what she called the “leaky pipeline.”
The evening of July 27 at the National Museum of Nuclear Science and History, Winfield and Kimberly Jackson, an associate chemistry professor at Spelman, presented their case studies and offered concrete strategies to support women of color. The talk was sponsored by Sandia’s Women’s Action Network (SWAN), Sandia’s Black Leadership Committee (BLC), and the Women’s International Study Center.
With effective mentoring and a focus on staying in touch with their alumnae, Winfield and Jackson have established a sustainable system where their students embrace their identity to cultivate success at Spelman and in their subsequent careers.
Beyond important, yet general, tools for success such as conducting undergraduate research, engaging global learning, and honing writing skills, Jackson highlighted the importance of living-learning communities to form a cohort. The support of peers with similar life experiences creates an environment where it is safe for the students to ask for help, which leads to persistence and ultimately equity in STEM fields.
Jackson and Winfield’s work was supported by a six-month planning grant from the National Institutes of Health. They were also Women’s International Study Center Fellows-in-Residence in Santa Fe.