In her job as a process engineer with Hitachi High Technologies, Julie Hopkins is on the forefront of technology.
"I get to see the technology of the future and help research it," said the 29-year-old Hopkins, a Terre Haute, Indiana, native who graduated from both Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology and Ivy Tech.
She is a process engineer in the semi-conductor equipment division at Hitachi High Technologies America in Dallas. At Rose-Hulman, she double majored in chemical engineering and biochemistry [with molecular biology]. At the same time, she also graduated from Ivy Tech with a degree in liberal arts, with a nursing focus.
Initially, she planned to pursue a STEM occupation that tends to employ more women, such as biomedical or pharmaceutical. But her life took some twists and turns, and she ended up working with a major tech company developing processes for next-generation semiconductors.
"I am an inventor and I love being free to just use my brain to develop chemical mechanisms that change technology every single day," she said.
Hopkins also wants to serve as a role model to other young women and inspire them to go into STEM fields, and she recently visited Terre Haute to speak at a workshop for high school students.
"We're a little behind in rural Indiana," she said. Women who are successful in STEM need to go back and talk about the "cool" things they are doing, she said. "We need to show we're excited about what we do ... and take that flag and wave it around."
Women remain underrepresented in the science and engineering workforce, although to a lesser degree than in the past, with the greatest disparities occurring in engineering, computer science and the physical sciences, according to the National Science Board.
Women make up half of the total U.S. college-educated workforce, but only 29 percent of the science and engineering workforce.
Female scientists and engineers are concentrated in different occupations than are men, with relatively high shares of women in the social sciences [62 percent] and biological, agricultural and environmental life sciences [48 percent] and relatively low shares in engineering [15 percent] and computer and mathematical sciences [25 percent].
Hopkins said her parents — both educators — always encouraged her, and when people have told her, "You can't do that," she's decided, with resolve, "I know I'm going to do it."
Hopkins believes one of the barriers for girls in STEM may come down to "women and machines," and girls too often not being encouraged to learn how machines work or how to use tools. If something breaks, dad, mom or whoever will be fixing something should encourage girls in the family to see how it's done, she said.
Rose-Hulman's Kay C Dee
At Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, Kay C Dee, associate dean of learning and technology and professor of biology and biomedical engineering, has been selected as one of the 2017 Inspiring Leaders in STEM Award recipients from INSIGHT Into Diversity magazine.
The award honors professionals from underrepresented groups who have made a difference in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Dee will be among 40 recipients featured in the September issue of the magazine.
She also served as interim head of the department of biology and biomedical engineering for two years, through July 1. She has helped bring more women into STEM and witnessed positive changes over the years, yet realizes there's still progress to be made.
Dee was a first-generation college student who "managed to scrape together enough scholarships and loans to pay tuition bills each year that were always higher than my [single] mom’s annual salary," she wrote. She describes herself as a "proud Pell grant recipient."
She eventually chose to become a professor and one of her goals was to open doors to diverse groups in STEM fields. "I could see those doors needed to be wedged open," Dee said. At Rose-Hulman, biology and biomedical engineering department has about 50 percent female students and more than 50 percent of faculty are women.
She has some thoughts about getting more women into STEM fields.
What's key for younger girls is to build their confidence. Her daughter, who will soon turn age 8, is attending a Lego camp this summer and she's also been playing Minecraft [a Lego-style video game]. "I want her to have the confidence to choose whatever path she wants," Dee said. At the same time, her daughter is learning that "technology can be fun." At that age, making it fun is key.
Also, science and technology can be incorporated into crafts; for example, if a craft involves decorating a water bottle, add a simple circuit [using a watch battery and small LED lights] so the water bottle lights up.
Dee also finds girls tend to mature faster than boys, and consequently, compare — and judge themselves to others — earlier than boys. "In general, I've observed those who worry most about what someone else thinks tend to be unhappy people. Those who can say I'll do this because it's fun and makes me happy ... tend to be happier," Dee said.
Dee believes there have been positive inroads, including at Rose. "In my department in particular, and overall at Rose-Hulman, many of us have that inclusive goal. I think we've managed to do some good things."
At the same time, there's work to do. About three weeks ago, Dee was in her office at her desk, and someone walked in and said, "We're here to see Dr. Dee." She told the person, who assumed Dr. Dee was male, "I'm Dr. Dee." She believes that person experienced a "powerful learning moment."
STEM in Indiana
According to the Indiana Commission for Higher Education, in the next decade the U.S. will need to fill about 2 million engineering and computing jobs. "With women underrepresented in many STEM fields, we’re not prepared to fill those gaps. ... And, without exposing more young women to STEM-related opportunities, we run the risk of missing that next big discovery or new innovation that can literally change everything… here in Indiana and around the world."
Colleges are stepping up to encourage more women to explore and enter STEM fields.
They are asking female students and faculty members to visit local middle schools to talk about STEM careers; hosting high school camps for girls; making sure women are included in marketing materials for STEM programs; and offering tutoring programs that match upperclass female students with incoming freshmen.
Indiana has seen an increase in women studying STEM fields in college, the Commission reports.
In 2016, 1,607 of the bachelor’s degrees awarded in STEM fields were earned by women; the total number of STEM bachelor’s degrees is 2016 was 5,080.
Since 2011, there has been 18 percent increase in the number of Hoosier women earning any credential in a STEM field – from short-term certificates to post-master’s certificates. [Statistics are for resident students at public 2-year and 4-year colleges].
CHE initiatives to support STEM and other high-demand areas include:
• Work-based Learning: The EARN INDIANA work-study program provides paid internships for economically disadvantaged Hoosier college students with both public and private employers.
• Performance Funding: The Commission has created incentives for research universities to produce STEM graduates through the state’s performance-based funding formula.
• Teacher Recruitment: It's helping to recruit and develop new K-12 teachers in STEM through Indiana’s STEM Teacher Recruitment Grant.
Sue Loughlin writes for the Terre Haute, Indiana, Tribune-Star.