Strong Women Collaborate to promote STEM

| By Cynthia Stephens |

Study after study demonstrates that women are underrepresented in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) fields. However, members of the American Association of University Women (AAUW) STEM committee are working together to change this fact. By collaborating across disciplines, we help women and girls in our mountains learn about the opportunities (intellectual, financial, creative and more) available in STEM careers.

Image: AAUW.org

AAUW is committed to encouraging women and girls to pursue STEM fields and grow the pipeline. Even though women have made strides in STEM (more women tech CEO’s, increased rates of women-declaring STEM- related majors, etc.), we still face inequities in pay, poor representation from minority races, and traditional discrimination challenges. Our society still promotes unconscious bias by associating math and science skills with male gender and there is more work to do.

Collaboration and cooperation are strengthened by sharing resources. Among the 186 Asheville AAUW members, many STEM careers are represented: Computer Science, Math, Engineering, Nursing, Psychology, Chemistry, and Geology. STEM workers have several things in common, but a mutual thread is collaboration, creative conceptualization, and formal inquiry. Collaboration among the diverse disciplines in our AAUW membership has led to identifying talents and the ability to harness the power in the philosophy of common purpose. That common purpose is equity for women and girls. Together, these women offer a unique perspective resulting in a shared understanding of influences and biases from different backgrounds, and more importantly, building blocks to a comprehensive plan.

Women of Power

Sylvie: Worked in gifted student programs and has two Master’s degrees

Sheila: Was a nurse in Nepal and Zambia and worked in international development addressing women’s issues

Wendy: Has an MS in Education and works with Kaplan in early learning

Lynn: Has worked in Art and Photography and loves to coordinate workshops on the technical aspects of photography

Jean: An attorney and early coding pioneer for women

Lorraine: Has an HR background and witnessed barriers in the workplace for women

Cindy: A nurse who believes that girls have been biased to NOT think of nursing as a science, however, nurses are awarded degrees such as Bachelors of Science and Masters of Science in nursing, even Doctorates of Science

Jan: An educator and past president of AAUW Asheville who believes “technology is the future”

Linda: An Engineering graduate from the University of Michigan, 1969, and one of four women in a class of 450. Later she went on to get a Ph.D. from Stanford.

Through our new STEM committee, diverse disciplines are represented. These women are committed to sharing the biases they have experienced in the work place and have resolved to create a multipronged approach to the development of key collaborations in our community to expand women’s representation in STEM fields.

Key Collaborations

Asheville- Buncombe Technical Community College (AB Tech)

AAUW will participate in AB Tech’s “Power Up Power On” seminar on March 16 that runs 12:30-4:00 p.m. at the AB-Tech event center. This is a STEM event open to all and will highlight information on robotics, work-life balance, and collaboration. This event is sponsored by AB Tech Women in Technology whose motto is, “To support, mentor, connect and lead.” Pam Silvers, an instructor in Computer Technologies, who was also a principle investigator for the $600,000+ NSF-ATE grant that AB Tech received in 2015, has helped organize it. Pam is on our AAUW STEM committee sharing her talents.

University of North Carolina-Asheville (UNC-A)

AAUW has a tradition of partnering with colleges and universities to provide resources for female students. The Asheville branch is keeping this tradition alive by partnering with UNC-A. One major goal of this collaboration is to introduce AAUW and its resources to faculty/staff and female students.

Providing female graduating students with information on the gender wage gap, and what they can expect as they enter the job market is another goal. National AAUW offers a course entitled ‘Start Smart’ designed to empower women with the skills and confidence to successfully negotiate their salary and benefits packages.

Women working full time in the United States typically are paid just 80% of what white men are paid, a gap of 20%, but this is smaller for women in STEM fields. By learning strategies and practicing effective language, participants gain valuable skills they can use throughout their lives ¬- well beyond their next negotiation. A pilot session of this course will be offered on the UNC-A campus in April and will be limited to 40 campus participants.

Hanger Hall

Hanger Hall is a private middle school and serves girls from the sixth through the eighth grades. AAUW is collaborating with Hanger Hall because research has shown that biases about math and science ability develop at an early age. AAUW will participate in a STEM panel to celebrate their annual ‘Women in the 21st Century Day’ in March. We will also be providing the resources for a hands-on activity. AAUW will be assisting Hanger Hall with summer activities and are busy developing a list of possibilities for the school. Summer programs can provide a fun way to explore unfamiliar subjects, along with the potential to develop new areas of interest.

A riddle that sends a message

Most of us have heard the riddle about the doctor and his son: A young boy and his father ended up in a car accident. Both were injured and rushed to the hospital. They were wheeled into separate operating rooms, as two different doctors prepped to work on their respective patients. The doctor stared down at the boy and exclaimed. “I can’t operate, this is my son!” The answer: If you guessed that the surgeon is the boy’s gay, second father, you get a point for enlightenment, but did you also guess the surgeon could be the boy’s mother? If not, you’re part of a surprising majority.

Gender bias has resulted in STEM bias and women must stand strong together to effectively encourage and inspire the next generation of female STEM professionals.


Cindy is a Family Nurse Practitioner who practices at The Family Health Centers, PA. She recently received her Doctorate of Nursing Practice where her technology based project focused on improving care to patients with dementia and was chosen by the WCU graduate research department to be presented at the NC legislature. She can be contacted at cstephens30@thefhc.net

You can find AAUW online at: www.asheville.aauw-nc.org or visit out our national website: www.aauw.org. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook.

Pamela J. Silvers of AB Tech can be contacted at pamelajsilvers@abtech.edu or Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College

Balsam Room 107
340 Victoria Road
Asheville, NC 28801

Sandi Tomlin-Sutker
Written by Sandi Tomlin-Sutker