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    • Female STEM teachers have inspired female students to take science-related courses and get more involved in the field.

Diversity Board Interviews Women in the Science Department

Megan Davis ’23 Features Editor
This term, Hopkins Diversity Board (DivBo) members Harini Thiruvengadam ’23, Nia Lampley ’24, and Ishani Vallabhajosyula ’24 interviewed several of the female teachers in the science department to gain insight into what it is like to be a woman in a male-dominated field. By conducting these interviews, DivBo hopes to spread awareness, empower women in STEM fields, and help readers get to know their science teachers a bit better.
Biology teacher Emilie Harris, interviewed by Thiruvengadam, has loved science since she was a kid. She shared that she “always wanted to do marine biology as a kid. I lived on an island [and] my dad is an oysterman, and I was very involved in [his work].” Additionally, Harris’ love for the field flourished when she attended Hopkins as a student: “As I got older, I fell in love with biology at Hopkins with Dr. Cox as my AP Bio teacher. Her enthusiasm and interest in molecular details tilted me towards microbiology specifically.”

Junior School Earth Science Teacher Maura Foley had a wildly different experience getting involved in the field of geology and earth science. In fact, she “didn’t take a [single] Earth Science class in high school. I [just] liked hiking, being outside, and always had an interest in natural processes.” She explained that “one day I was just like, ‘I want to go to school for geology!’ My parents thought it was a little strange because [I was involved in] theater and art. So I went to a liberal arts college so I could still [study] other things I was interested in while also pursuing [my] science degree.”

Throughout their careers, these teachers have found that the most rewarding moments come when students discover a new passion. When asked about what makes her love teaching science, Biology teacher Kellie Cox responded, “It’s you guys. It feels [so good] when I hear feedback from young women who, [before the] class, did not feel that they had an affinity to the sciences. If I hear that I have helped change their view or help them feel more comfortable, you have no idea what that means to me. The idea that I’m helping put young women on the path to the sciences [is motivating].”

Harris noted a similar achievement: “I taught a ninth-grader in 2016 who thought biology was fine, but it didn’t stand out for her one way or another; she went on to do her undergraduate work in neurology with a minor in psychology. For her and the biology side of her interests, ninth-grade biology was one thing that led to her developing a love and care for it. [When students] take AP Bio to take [an] AP, and then they leave and think like ‘oh, actually, I like this!’ [it is the] most rewarding thing about [teaching].”

These science teachers shared their best advice to their female students on entering the STEM fields. Foley highlighted the importance of “pursuing all sorts of experiences: whether it’s taking a class or just talking to someone who has some experience in STEM. [Try] consuming science in the news: I like knowing what the contemporary things going on are because that keeps you invigorated. I like teaching [about outer] space for eighth grade because every day, there’s something new [that is discovered]. I think that’s very inspiring.” She continued, “Find mentors. Find allies. If you’re interested in something, don’t let anyone discourage you. Find the people that encourage you.”

Hopkins’ science teachers urged their students not to become discouraged in times of difficulty. Physics teacher Lynn Connelly, interviewed by Vallabhajosyula, reminded her students that “everything in STEM is challenging, but you can do anything you put your mind to. You should never give up or think that you’re not qualified enough to do it. Even if you are the only person doing what you’re interested in, that’s okay. You just have to go with your passion.” Connelly shared her personal experience: “when I was in graduate school, oddly enough, I was the only female electrical engineer [in all my classes]. As I said before, it doesn’t matter what the makeup of the class is; you just have a goal, a dream, and a passion, and you just put your mind to it.”

Harris echoed Connelly’s message by encouraging students not to “minimize yourself! Don’t make yourself smaller or quieter in the face of any sort of challenge or difficulty. Own your space and own who you are. You don’t have to look a certain way as a scientist anymore, and I think that also helps with letting your voice be heard. I’ve met plenty of female-identifying scientists who are rocking heels and pencil skirts and full-face makeup just as much as I’ve met women who could care less and wear the same three things to the lab. There’s not that specific image [of a scientist] anymore.”

Harris offered a piece of advice that has gotten her through her own obstacles. She emphasized the importance of “find[ing] your people; it’s always good to have a support team. There are always going to be challenges: some days it can be because of your gender, some days it can be because of a new idea you have, some days it can be because it’s Tuesday! It’s always good to have that core group within your environment.”

Reflecting the views of many of her colleagues, Cox urged her female students to use their skills to their advantage when working in science: “Owning your strength and abilities does not have to mean that you need to be that loud person in the room who speaks up. That is not what I mean by voice; everyone has a voice. Even those of us who are quieter. Your voice can be your actions. Your voice can be your success. Your voice is your passion.”
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