Local AWIS Chapter Advances Cause of Women in STEM Fields
When Christine Pellino asks the girls who attend her after-school program what they think a scientist looks like, they respond, "White hair, old man, wearing glasses.”
She’s out to change that perception, with support from the Cincinnati chapter of the Association of Women In Science (AWIS).
"I tell them, ‘You’ll be happy to know that I’m a scientist,” says Pellino, the chapter’s community service and outreach chairperson. "And what we’re doing at this program is what scientists do—they discover, and learn, and make hypotheses about things.”
AWIS, which traces its roots to 1971, is a national nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing the interests of women in science and technology. The Cincinnati chapter was launched in January and is open not only to the UC community but also to women—and men—from the Greater Cincinnati academic and corporate community who are interested in promoting the achievement of women in all STEM fields and levels.
"We’re looking to create a regional network of women in math, sciences and engineering,” says Diana Koch, chapter president and a doctoral student in the department of molecular genetics, biochemistry and microbiology. "We’re trying to encourage mentorship for women, because there are fewer women advancing in science.”
Koch points out that once women earn advanced degrees, they often face the choice of starting a family or starting a career. Also, she says, statistics suggest that women are more likely to turn down job opportunities because they need to take care of their family—either an older relative or their children.
"So by creating these mentorships, it’s encouraging women to pursue their goals and to understand what opportunities are available and how to face challenges,” she says.
Rather than general membership meetings, the chapter’s Executive Committee focuses on monthly events that have a strong connection to real-life issues, such as a recent financial planning seminar, or offer community service opportunities. The chapter is interested in providing the professional training to women in STEM that is not taught to scientists in graduate school.
Pellino, also a doctoral student in the department of molecular genetics, biochemistry and microbiology, partners with the Cincinnati Recreation Commission for an after-school program at the Leblond Recreation Center in the East End. The idea is to reach girls of middle-school age by focusing on a hands-on, science-related activity.
"We start with an introductory talk, giving them enough background to do the activity or understand what’s going on,” she says. "Then we do the activity, and then I try to tie that into some sort of career.”
For information about the Greater Cincinnati chapter of AWIS, contact Diana Koch at GC.AWIS@gmail.com or call 703-894-4490. Here is a link to the chapter’s website. It can also be found on Facebook and LinkedIn.