The following is an excerpt from the summer Trident featuring Tri Deltas in STEM. You can read about our other amazing alumnae and collegiate sisters succeeding in STEM in the print version of the magazine. Don’t subscribe to The Trident? Subscribe here or become Life Loyal to receive every issue of The Trident in your mailbox!
BRAVE AND BOLD: Tri Deltas are Changing the Face of STEM
Since the founding of our Fraternity, Tri Deltas have always been brave and bold — making a place for themselves in male-dominated spheres. Our Founders did just that when they entered Boston University in the 1880s. Today, Tri Deltas continue to succeed in predominately male fields — in particular science, technology, engineering and math (better known as STEM). The disproportionate number of women in these fields is a widely researched topic. According to the U.S. Department of Commerce: “Although women fill close to half of all jobs in the U.S. economy, they hold less than 25 percent of STEM jobs. This has been the case throughout the past decade, even as college-educated women have increased their share of the overall workforce.” Overall, women face far more challenges than men when it comes to pursuing and succeeding in STEM fields. As we explore the issues surrounding women in STEM, we turn to Tri Deltas who have faced the challenges of being a woman in STEM and who — like our Founders — are paving the way for the women who will follow in their footsteps.
Kendall Aresu, Puget Sound, is a sophomore majoring in computer science and business, but she wasn’t exposed to computer science at all prior to college. She signed up for her first computer science class during her freshman year at her mother’s suggestion.
Although she enjoyed the class and knew it was something she was good at, she also felt intimidated by her male classmates who seemed light-years ahead of her. “Most of them had been coding since they were teenagers, and I didn’t know anything about it. I was harder on myself for not being at the same level as they were.”
Kendall wishes she would have been exposed to computer science — and in particular, women in computer science — earlier. “For me it would have been helpful to see women in these fields visit my high school and talk about these opportunities that I had no idea existed. That could have changed my entire high school experience. I could have taken a coding class and been more prepared and more confident when I started college.”
For Kendall, being exposed to successful, hard-working Tri Delta women who are all completely different helped her develop more confidence in herself and in her abilities.
“Tri Delta has been a really amazing way for me to meet other women who are in all different fields. You can see each Tri Delta woman is capable of achieving whatever they believe in…pursuing pre-med or physical therapy or wanting to become a professor. Seeing all these women working hard because they want to be successful and achieve something great is really inspiring and empowering.”
Today, she hopes to become a role model for younger women interested in computer science today: “I want to be that kind of person for younger women. I want young women to know it’s possible to do these things. Just because it’s a male-dominated field doesn’t mean we can’t change that. And it starts with exposing other women to the field.”
Janna Hamaker, Mississippi State, principal software development engineer at Amazon, had early exposure to engineering from her father. Although he wanted her to follow in his footsteps, Janna admits she had more of an interest in art and design. She was initially looking into studying graphic design or architecture, and it wasn’t until a high school calculus teacher suggested she look into engineering that she decided to pursue STEM.
At Mississippi State, Janna majored in electrical engineering and went on to get her master’s degree in computer science. She’d completed all but dissertation on her Ph.D. in computer science when she moved to Seattle and went to work for Amazon. Her work at Amazon has resulted in her earning several engineering patents.
At Amazon, to be a successful engineer you also need to be a leader. “It’s not just about sitting at your desk and coding all the time,” Janna says. She credits Tri Delta with providing her with the well-roundedness that has helped her succeed in her position. “Because I’m an introvert, it would have been easy to only be friends with the people on my dorm floor and not push myself. Being in a sorority forced me to be open and to have experiences I would not have had normally.”
Janna believes that encouraging more women to pursue STEM careers begins with making the work environment more welcoming to all. One way to do this is by providing a more flexible work/life balance for both men and women. “Don’t assume that just because a man has a family, he’s not going going to be the primary caregiver,” says Janna. “My husband and I split childcare duties. I pick them up from school, he takes them; we take turns for doctors’ appointments and rotate when people are sick. Assuming the woman is going to do it is what’s damaging. Assuming a woman won’t want to do a job with travel, even though you wouldn’t make the same assumption about a man, is damaging.”
Biology major Marlowe Moser, Puget Sound, says one of the biggest challenges for her as a STEM major was changing some of the behavior patterns she’d been taught as a woman in order to be successful in her classes. “As a woman, I feel like I’ve grown up being taught to be more self-conscious and a little more reserved; we’re taught to be polite and non-confrontational. As a science student, confidence, boldness and a knowledge of your own ability is really crucial. If you aren’t confident, you can’t excel in science. That’s something that’s been a challenge for me to deal with. I think my education in science is helping me become a more confident and bold person, and that will serve me well in whatever career I decide to go into.”
Marlowe sees a cyclical effect with having more women in STEM. “The more women that take on STEM careers, the more we can start breaking down those barriers that women face in the sciences,” she says.
As for encouraging other women to pursue STEM, she says: “I think that what I can do right now is be a role model. I want to focus on having a good experience as a STEM major, taking advantage of all the opportunities that are presented to me. By becoming as successful as I can, I can be a beacon and a role model to show other girls that yes, you can do it.”