Finding My Place in STEM: A STEM Field Diversity Project, is the brainchild of Desireé Shibata, a Women’s Center Event Programmer for University of California, Santa Barbara. The project includes pictures of people from all backgrounds holding up a whiteboard with a few words about their experiences involving STEM, the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics fields.
“The mission of [this project] is to increase awareness of the issues surrounding students, specifically women and underrepresented groups, in STEM,” reads the promotional material for the project.
According to research, most women and minorities gravitate toward the humanities instead of STEM. In a survey of 850 girls performed by the Girl Scouts of America, about 50 percent of the girls felt that STEM wasn’t a typical career path for women. Shibata wants to know why.
“There shouldn’t be a reason why lack of support prevents students from getting involved in STEM. If you don’t get that at home, then you should get that support at school,” she said.
Shibata, a first generation college student, identifies as a woman of color. She was majoring in biochemistry, but recently switched to sociology and Chicano studies due to family issues. Still, she plans on a future in the medical field, and said that she cannot see herself doing anything else.
“I didn’t have a support group at home, and my advisors didn’t give me that support,” Shibata said about majoring in science. “Even professors were basing me off my test scores, but I worked hard…they just didn’t understand my circumstances.”
Shibata worked 30 to 40 hours a week while taking her classes, and she interned with a surgeon at a hospital in LA every weekend during her first year of college.
“I know it’s not because I’m not good enough,” she said. “And I can’t be alone. The issue of diversity in STEM is not brought up often, and I wanted to help.”
She gestures towards the gallery, set up in the conference room of the Women’s Center. The wall displays dozens of photographs of women holding whiteboards with their unique personal stories. Many of them are students, both involved in STEM and not, and professors.
“I wanted to hear individual stories,” Shibata said. “I wanted everyone to have their own space and their own voice.”
She talks about the antiquated stereotype that women cannot be involved in STEM, or that they just do not have an innate talent for certain subjects. However, a look at history proves this to be untrue. Ada Lovelace was a brilliant mathematician and the world’s first computer programmer; Mae C. Jemison was the first African American woman in space aboard the 1992 space shuttle Endeavour; Hedy Lamarr invented transmission techniques still used in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth technologies to this day.
“I’m really surprised that [Finding My Place in STEM] took off,” Shibata said. “My ultimate goal is to gain more support at our campus level, and then spread this to UC campuses as well.”
The STEM Field Diversity Project can be found at the Women’s Center, located on the second floor of the Student Resource Building. The gallery will be open through March 22, and visitors can add their personal stories to the wall, creating a thought-provoking display.