Empowering Women in STEM: Endeavoring to Excel


Empowering Women in STEM: Endeavoring to Excel

March 11, 2024

In this essay, Paula Juric Kreuz, professional development specialist in the College of Engineering and Computing Sciences, talks about her academic journey from a non-STEM student at a male-dominated STEM school to working at a STEM-focused university and why it’s important to encourage more women to pursue STEM-related careers.

The National Women’s History Alliance has designated the theme for the 2024 Women’s History Month as Champions of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion. This theme celebrates women across the nation who champion the vision of a future free from bias and discrimination in both personal and institutional realms. This theme resonates deeply with my experiences navigating the intricate landscape of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) alongside brilliant female colleagues. In a domain historically dominated by men, embracing the contributions and perspectives of women isn’t just a matter of principle; it’s a catalyst for innovation, progress, and genuine collaboration.

“Excellence through Endeavor” was my high school’s motto. I never really understood the gravity of that message, especially back then. The gist was understandable: If you try hard, you will achieve success. More dishearteningly, if you don’t, you will fail. My proficiencies, interests, and ambitions put my sights on a degree in mathematics, something that had come more naturally to me. However, looking back, I was one out of three girls in my mathematics class. I never considered if this was something that may have affected my choices in degree, but I did end up enrolling in languages instead—a far more female dominated subject.

I attended Cardiff University in the United Kingdom, one that was famous for being primarily a male-dominated STEM university. Being a female non-STEM student made me unsure whether this would be the right place for me. The languages program was humble in comparison to the engineering, math, and science studies it offered. But to my delight, this meant smaller class sizes, one-on-one meetings with lecturers and tutors, and personal connections with my linguistic colleagues. Conversely, you had the experience of the STEM students: with over 300 people packed in lecture halls, lectures were impersonal, interactions with professors were brief, and there were numerous hurdles when it came to academic success. They were getting lost in the mix of things, and instead of establishing a connection with their professors and peers and getting the most out of their education, they were slipping through the cracks. Ultimately, many of the undergraduates who came to study STEM subjects could not surmount these challenges and ended up dropping out, a disproportionate number being female students.

I always knew that women had long been underrepresented in STEM fields, but only then did I have a first-hand perspective of the various challenges they were facing and an insight as to why. From implicit bias to systemic barriers, both in and out of college, it was no wonder we saw few women in STEM fields. Furthermore, I would surmise this was why fewer women chose to embark in STEM subjects, considering the circumstances my fellow students were facing and the lack of female representation. This made me think back to my school’s motto and how unfair it was to imply that if someone failed, it was a result of their own lack of endeavor.

Toward the end of my master’s degree, I worked for my university’s School of Engineering. My work focused on summer schools and promoting the study of STEM to international students and underrepresented groups. I found the work extremely rewarding, especially when the summer school students would return and apply to the university. During my tenure, I found my first professional role model. She exuded natural success, had pride in her work, and was actively creating opportunities for young women and underrepresented groups going into STEM-focused academia. This made me realize how important female role models are for young women at work and school.

When I began my career at the College of Engineering and Computing Sciences at New York Tech, I was taken aback by the number of women around me, be it faculty, staff, or students. I learned about the Society of Women Engineering (SWE), as well as the other academic engineering clubs, which all had active female representation in leadership positions. In my position, I have the pleasure of working and interacting very closely with our students. Since the inception of the two new Ph.D. programs in the College, it is inspiring to see a healthy number of female Ph.D. students in various fields and stages of their research. Despite being one of the largest colleges at New York Tech, the College of Engineering and Computing Sciences almost felt like my small school of languages.

This was when I realized what my school motto truly meant in my position at New York Tech. That my personal endeavor of excellence was encouraging excellence in others. Assisting those who may need more support, guidance, or reassurance is not only our responsibility but our duty. Ensuring gender equality, inclusion, as well as academic excellence is our creed. All of which makes it imperative to support and promote women in STEM higher education.

Here are some actions we in academia can take:

  • Challenge Bias and Stereotypes: Speak up against bias and stereotypes in your academic settings, whether it’s in the classroom, laboratory, or workplace. Ensure that every environment is fair for everyone involved, with no implications of exclusivity. Let’s be champions of equity, diversity, and inclusion.
  • Celebrate Achievements: Recognize and celebrate the achievements of women in STEM within your New York Tech academic community and beyond. Highlight their contributions, share their success stories, and inspire others to follow in their footsteps.
  • Encourage Mentorship: Mentors are invaluable and can be found everywhere. The College of Engineering and Computing Sciences’ doors are always open, with faculty and staff on hand whenever they are needed. If you are in the position to guide someone in the right direction, do it!
  • Promote STEM Education for All: New York Tech has many opportunities to engage with the wider community, whether it’s working for the summer academies with middle-school and high-school students, engaging in club initiatives to promote STEM education through workshops, or even participating in outreach events such as Admissions Open Houses.

To all young women with aspirations for a STEM career who are concerned about finding your place, I encourage you to engage on campus. Ask questions, attend networking events, join a club, attend career fairs, find an internship, and start thinking about what you would like to do after college. The best mentors are the ones who have also gone through these experiences. So, talk with your faculty, staff, and fellow students. Reach out to alumni when the occasion presents itself. There are so many opportunities available to you at New York Tech to expand your horizons. All you need to do is go out and seize them.

Endeavor to excel!