“Be bold!” Dr. Rebecca (Becky) Ruck advised as she spoke to members of the Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) Club at Westfield High School. The WISE Club, founded in 2015, encourages young women to continue their interests in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields. For one of their seminars, the club invited co-presidents of the Princeton Women in Computer Science, Viveka Mastandrea and Vibhaalakshmi Sivaraman; members of the Rutgers Women in STEM Club; and Ruck, a director in the Process Chemistry Department at Merck. The speakers talked about career opportunities for women studying in the STEM fields and shared anecdotes from their own experiences.
“By sharing their experiences in the [paths] they chose, I was able to get a better idea of how it would suit me and my own interests,” said Cindy Qiang, vice president of the WISE Club.
Highlighting unique opportunities for aspiring computer-science or engineering majors, Mastandrea and Sivaraman spoke extensively about the numerous programs and classes offered to STEM majors at Princeton University. What was more inspiring, however, were the college students’ own testimonies about their experiences as women in male-dominant fields.
Even in a diverse community like Princeton, the women noted that only about 30 percent of undergraduate students in the computer science majors are female. Fortunately, women that do pursue this field have no dearth of support from professors and peers.
“The best part of being a girl in computer science is the support groups and some of the most inspirational people that I have met through them,” said Sivaraman.
“It was especially important to hear how useful groups of girls can be to support each other through the girls in computer-science club in Princeton,” said Sophie Hurwitz, a member of the WISE Club.
Ruck shared her story with the group, outlining her journey of exploring different interests throughout her career. Encouraging girls in the audience to “follow the breadcrumbs” of opportunity, she applauded the efforts of the club to close the gender gap in STEM.
“It’s reassuring to hear the amazing impact a group of girls much like the WISE club can have in the future and hope they really supported each other with every decision they made,” Hurwitz told JSR.
“I think the gender issue is getting better despite the large disparity between the number of women and men in STEM fields. Women are making their voice heard more now and the balance between the genders is slowly becoming equal,” said Qiang.
The WISE Club plans to continue its initiative by organizing an outreach to local middle schools as well as planning group tours to nearby lab facilities for more exposure.