Women in STEM: Succeeding in a Male Dominated Field

Seniors Lindsay Stapleton, Soha Rizvi and Hallie Dumas (left to right) strive to be breakthrough minds in their respective fields.

Gina Quatrino, Production Editor

A recurring idea in contemporary society is the empowerment of women. Especially in the growing generation, the social barriers and stigmas surrounding women in the workforce are being attacked from all angles. Feminism is once again a prominent movement that is pushing our society towards a brighter future. However, despite the leaps we are taking in the right direction, there is one section of the workforce that has been left behind. Careers for women focusing around Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) are at an all time low. The field has been male dominated for so long; it seems like an impossible obstacle to jump. Regardless of the challenge, these three West seniors are making their dreams of excelling in the STEM fields into a reality.

“I’ve wanted to be an astronaut since I was 10,” senior Lindsay Stapleton said. “I think it’s the most interesting thing ever.”

Stapleton aspires to enter the astronautics and aerospace engineering field. This is not just a dream for her; this is a long-term goal she hopes to make a reality. She has already started her journey into space exploration and engineering by collecting as much information and experience as she can.

“This past summer I did two engineering camps, one in Material Science and one in Space Engineering with an astronautics concentration,” Stapleton said. “That gave me an elementary understanding and feel for what it would be like to study in that field.”

One of the things she learned over the summer and emphasizes the most is the impact space exploration has on the world.

“Everything that we do in space benefits life on Earth,” Stapleton said. “The things that you learn from it can be applied to bettering our own planet.”

Senior Soha Rizvi is also interested in the benefits her field can do for the community.

“I want to go into politics and pursue a PhD in economics,” Rizvi said. “I want to be educated about economics and economic policy so I can actually make a difference when I go into that field.”

Rizvi understands that she has to work hard in order to be successful in her STEM career; however, she never loses sight of her true passion.

“When I’m volunteering I have to go to lower income areas in Dallas a lot,” Rizvi said. “The services we provide so clearly change to reflect policy decisions. My grandparents and the financial situations that they faced in Pakistan, with regard to how they invest their money and the limitations that the government placed on them, made me realize that all this economic theory affects people’s lives so much more than you think. If I can become an expert in it and learn how to actually use it to help people, then that’s what I want to do.”

Rizvi recounts how she came upon a career path that embodied both her love for mathematics and politics.

“I always knew that I wanted to do something math related,” Rizvi said. “When I got older and politics started becoming so prevalent in our lives, I knew that I wanted to do that too. To reconcile them, I realized that quantitative economics would be a really good field to go into.”

Senior Hallie Dumas also has a strong passion for her STEM field. Dumas aspires to enter the workforce as someone who delves into the technology and science behind caring for people with disabilities.

“I’ve been drawn to people with special needs since I was a little kid in elementary school,” Dumas said. “This past year I got to have a really cool hands-on experience doing occupational therapy with someone with a severe physical disability. That inspired me to look into the medical side of it too.”

Dumas has been proactive in her research towards the field. She attended a conference over the summer to help her gain more information about her career.

“Over the summer I went to a conference in Indianapolis for international students looking to go into working with disabilities,” Dumas said. “It was really cool because we got to go to seminars with adults who work in that field and got to hear from them about their experiences.”

Working with those who have special needs is a field that many people do not consider when thinking of the path to their future. Because of this, Dumas had little resources when it came to role models she could look up to for encouragement. It was not until she went to a friend’s house one day that she discovered there were more people than she imagined who wanted to pursue her same career path.
“My friend’s mom actually works with people with disabilities for her job,” Dumas said. “When I got to meet her during my freshman year, that was really cool. I’d never known anyone that pursued that career path.”

Dumas commented on the struggles she went through of finding a middle ground between helping others and still making an impact to the STEM workforce.

“Growing up I always thought that there was no way that I could go into a science field and also do something that worked with people,” Dumas said. “I was always told that if you wanted to do something that’s caring and empathetic, you can’t do that with science. But as I’ve grown up, I’ve realized there are so many paths that you can take, even if people overlook you at first.”

Being overlooked and feeling outnumbered is a scary reality for most women interested in entering a male dominated business. The three girls connected over the mutual obstacles they face in trying to reach their own dreams in STEM.

“It’s a super male-dominated field,” Rizvi said. “Obviously it started that way because women weren’t even in the workforce in any capacity, and even now in my multi-variable class there’s only two girls. In my computer science class, there are three or four girls out of like 20. It is so intimidating and testosterone filled. They look at you differently and don’t always treat you like you’re smart.”

Stapleton realizes that there has historically always been an unequal ratio of women to men going into her desired field. Because of this, she began looking into programs that work to boost young women up in their careers, not push them away from it.

“There definitely is a stigma against women in these fields,” Stapleton said. “But there are a lot of organizations in colleges and different things that you can get involved in that give you a group, so you don’t feel outnumbered.”

When asked what advice they would give other women their age looking to adventure into a similar field, Dumas gave a sentiment to empower those who feel discouraged.
“You are capable of much more than you’re told that you are,” Dumas said. “Even though the stigmas that you face are disheartening, the best feeling is when you can prove that you are just as good, if not better, than your counterparts in what you’re studying.”

Stapleton emphasized the importance of following your heart and where your passion takes you.

“If you love it, don’t let other people hold you back from doing what you want to do,” Stapleton said. “The stigma against women and how they’re treated differently can be discouraging, but if it’s what you want to do, you just need to follow your passion.”

Rizvi added onto the others’ advice, highlighting the need to keep going and resist anyone who tries to stop you.

“You have to learn to get back up if you get knocked down,” Rizvi said. “You will face stigmas if you go into any STEM field. You just have to know your worth and just brush off that treatment.”

It is with this motivation that Stapleton, Rizvi and Dumas are all aspiring to enter the workforce under the STEM field. Regardless of the differences in each of their desired careers, the three students understand that there are mutual obstacles they must overcome in order to excel in their dreams. No matter how tall the barriers are, or how far away the end goal may seem, it is important to follow your passion. Women are the future of the STEM workforce.

“It’s a field that we’re really lacking in,” Dumas said. “Knowing that there is so much more we could be doing is what drives me. Somebody has to step up and do it.”