• December 11, 2019

Friends start a new chapter to promote women in STEM - The Trail Blazer: News

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Friends start a new chapter to promote women in STEM

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Posted: Saturday, September 7, 2019 6:00 pm

SWISE
The President of the Society of Women in Space Exploration, Rebecca Mikula poses for a photo on Wednesday, September 4, 2019, in Morehead, Kentucky. SWISE is the first women centered Science Technology Engineering and Math, STEM, club that has existed t Morehead State University. This international organization is working on decreasing the discrimination that women in STEM face while asl working to uplift the women of today and tomorrow. Photo by Makayla Holder / Trailblazer Makayla Holder

From a ‘silly’ group chat to Morehead State University’s first women-centered Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics club, the women within the Space Science Center are breaking new ground as they work to combat discrimination. 

Rebecca Mikula, the president of MSU’s chapter of the Society of Woman in Space Exploration (SWISE), and some of her friends, became one of the first ten chapters of the international organization. Since becoming an official organization in March 2019, they have raised 850 books for the Haldeman After School Program as community outreach, but their main goal is to serve as an inspirational source and encourage women within STEM.

“The importance of SWISE is so that young women get to see people like them doing science and engineering and math,” said Mikula, an Astrophysics and Chemistry major. “They see a woman of color, a disabled woman, maybe someone in the LGBTQ community.”

Mikula was drawn to SWISE because, despite being involved in STEM classes, she knew very few of the other women in the program. 

While on a late-night food run Mikula and her friend, Emily Mattle, felt a good way to combat that was to start a group chat for every female within the Space Science Center.

“It was something I had already been wanting to do, but I didn’t know how to get it off the ground,” said Mikula, a native of Savannah, Missouri.

SWISE
MSU students share paint during the second Society of Women in Space Exploration meeting of the semester on Thursday, September 5, 2019, in Morehead, Kentucky. SWISE is the first women centered Science Technology Engineering and Math, STEM, club that has existed t Morehead State University. This international organization is working on decreasing the discrimination that women in STEM face while asl working to uplift the women of today and tomorrow. Photo by Makayla Holder / Trailblazer Makayla Holder

As the group grew, so did Mikula’s desire to start a program for women within the department. So, she contacted SWISE founder and president Biana Vasquez about establishing a local chapter.

The initial presence SWISE had few months prior to becoming an official organization was celebrated by holding a book drive for the Haldeman After School Program, where Mikula worked as a science teacher. The women more than quadrupled the expected number books they planned on receiving with the total being 850 books. 

The drive was able to send 15 books home with each child to keep, and the rest are to be divided between the After School Program, Rowan County Women’s Shelter and the Rowan County Children’s Advocacy Center. Other outreach, such as self-defense classes and sponsoring a girl for Space Trek, will follow.

Despite the good these programs do, another matter lies closer to the heart of club, discrimination against women in STEM.

“Statistically speaking, the national saturation of women in astrophysics is less than seven percent,” said Mikula, citing a 2018 PEW Research Center study. “And for African American women, LGBTQ women and women of different bodily ability, its smaller.” 

This is one of the key causes driving SWISE as many members of the organization have faced discrimination from classmates, guidance counselors and professors. 

SWISE
A MSU student works on crafts during the second Society of Women in Space Exploration meeting of the semester on Thursday, September 5, 2019, in Morehead, Kentucky. SWISE is the first women centered Science Technology Engineering and Math, STEM, club that has existed t Morehead State University. This international organization is working on decreasing the discrimination that women in STEM face while asl working to uplift the women of today and tomorrow. Photo by Makayla Holder / Trailblazer Makayla Holder

“Everybody faces hardships going through whatever they want to pursue regardless, but being a woman in STEM presents its own unique challenges,” said Emily Mattle, vice president of SWISE.

The Pew study showed that discrimination can be damaging. While the number of women in these fields is small, a majority of them who work in a male dominated workplace report having experienced discrimination whether it be minute or on a larger scale.

“Just because it is better now doesn’t mean there isn’t still progress to be made,” said Mikula, “Even though it isn’t overt, sometimes that discrimination that happens to women in STEM is still damaging and it still happens.”

One suggestion remedy is to hire more women for the STEM faculty.

SWISE
MSU students share paint during the second Society of Women in Space Exploration meeting of the semester on Thursday, September 5, 2019, in Morehead, Kentucky. SWISE is the first women centered Science Technology Engineering and Math, STEM, club that has existed t Morehead State University. This international organization is working on decreasing the discrimination that women in STEM face while asl working to uplift the women of today and tomorrow. Photo by Makayla Holder / Trailblazer Makayla Holder

“When you see somebody like you doing something you feel accepted and welcome,” said Mikula. “Morehead doing something where they showed people of diverse backgrounds would be a good way to improve diversity at the university.” 

She also feels a breakthrough is happening due to a new wave of feminism.

“I think in recent years women have been able to be more vocal and I think it started with things like the MeToo Movement and the Women’s March,” she said. “Women feel like they are able to act against social constructs that have been in place for a really long time.”