As a woman in technology, Emily Hemingway is used to being the only woman – and certainly the youngest woman – in the room.
But rather than let that faze her, Hemingway, the founding executive director of TechSTL, translates that challenge into a charge to represent those who do not have a seat at the table. In her keynote talk during the annual Graduate Women in Science conference, held on April 7 on the University of Missouri—St. Louis campus, Hemingway argued that embracing disruption is necessary to lift up diverse voices.
“When you start seeing the ways in which you are able to step into the eye of the storm – that there are certain things that you can say or do that others cannot – I think that once you see that, it then becomes a moral obligation to be that because you then have the capacity to make that choice,” she told the crowd gathered in the Millennium Student Center Century Rooms.
“Am I going to be the person who starts this ripple change? Am I going to be the one that opens up this conversation? You’re having to constantly ask yourself, ‘What is the change that needs to happen in this moment? And how can I possibly be the person that sparks that?’ That is the biggest path of a disruptor. And I especially believe that women can play a very special role when it comes to disruption. Because we can stand up for things and straddle lines and communicate in different ways. And I think that there’s something very, very powerful when women own the power that they have in the rooms that they’re in, because we can change on a different level. We can’t be afraid to spark change. We have to be willingly ready to light that flame.”
Hemingway’s talk was just one event during a full day’s worth of presentations and conversations during the annual conference hosted by the St. Louis chapter of Graduate Women in Science. The national organization seeks to support, recognize and empower women in the fields of science, technology and mathematics through research grants and fellowships, networking opportunities and mentorship. The conference is one of the largest events the St. Louis chapter hosts each year in order to promote diversity and inclusion in STEM and build community.
After brief opening remarks, Carissa Philippi, GWIS president and associate professor in the Department of Psychological Sciences, began the event with a heartfelt tribute to Bettina Casad, an associate professor in the Department of Psychological Sciences who passed away on March 6. Casad formerly served as vice president of the St. Louis chapter of GWIS and played a pivotal role in the organization, including planning its first conference in the spring of 2020.
“Dr. Casad was a strong and enthusiastic supporter of women in STEM through her research and outreach,” Philippi said. “Her interdisciplinary research investigated stereotyping, prejudice and discrimination. She was interested in understanding the mechanisms linking experiences of stigma to psychological well-being, educational and career achievements and physical health. She had a particular interest in barriers for women and minorities in STEM disciplines.
“Dr. Casad’s outreach aligned directly with her research. She was actively involved in many outreach efforts in different capacities – just one example is her involvement in our Graduate Women in Science chapter. I remember how excited she was to form our chapter, and she was integral to the planning of many of our events. She really served as a model of successful women in STEM for so many of her students, colleagues and friends. We will all miss her dearly. We hope to continue to build on her work and legacy through conferences and events like these.”
The theme of this year’s conference was “Diverse Voices in STEM,” which was also the theme of the inaugural conference organized by Casad. “This theme is significant because we wanted to honor the memory of Dr. Bettina Casad and her research and outreach, which was focused on understanding barriers for women and minorities in STEM disciplines and also on solutions to overcome these obstacles,” Philippi said.
This year’s theme was on display throughout the day, which featured two symposiums, a panel discussion, a mentoring luncheon, Hemingway’s keynote speech and several student poster presentations. The “Diversity in STEM” symposium, for instance, featured three faculty and graduate students conducting research on the influence of sexism on collaboration; assessing programs to improve diversity, equity and inclusion in health care; and community-engaged research to improve racial equity in addiction science.
For the panel discussion, three speakers in different STEM fields – Rachel Delston, a consultant at Mirada Life Sciences; Riisa Rawlins, chief operations and strategy officer at St. Louis Regional Health Commission; and Sisi Li, senior data architect lead at Porta Sophia – discussed their non-academic jobs and how they charted their paths after college and graduate school.
The event also included a mentoring luncheon, in which discussion leaders stationed at different tables engaged with students and attendees to informally discuss a topic related to barriers in STEM or professional development topics. Discussion topics included microaggressions, working with the media, helping people with science, study skills, neuroscience preparation programs for undergraduate students and careers in academia.