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The World Needs More Cowgirls

September 20, 2018
two women standing outside in the snow
Delaney Dent and Emily Lynch are members of Phi Sigma Rho, a social and philanthropic sorority for engineering students. (Courtesy Photo)

Women in STEM fields are underrepresented, but UW aims to change that.

By Micaela Myers

Delaney Dent of Powell, Wyo., noticed that there were only a handful of women in her classes, but when this chemical engineering senior began looking for a female mentor, she really noticed the gender disparity. According to the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economics and Statistics Administration, women constitute slightly more than half of college-educated workers but make up only 25 percent of college-educated STEM workers. STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Women who do complete STEM degrees earn 35 percent more than women with similar education attainment in non-STEM jobs.

The University of Wyoming offers a number of groups and initiatives to help female STEM students. “There’s strong support,” says Dent, president of the new Phi Sigma Rho sorority—a women’s social and philanthropic group for students in engineering and engineering technology.

Dent is also a member of UW’s Society of Women Engineers (SWE) chapter, as is electrical engineering junior Hannah Bertelson of Midland, Texas. SWE seeks to promote diversity within all engineering disciplines by providing a network for female engineering students, career enhancement opportunities and outreach events.

“I have gained so much from being a part of SWE,” says Bertelson, who serves as SWE’s marketing chair. This included attending the national conference: “I was able to network and learn from a large group of accomplished women in the field. They shared their experiences and advice about how to be successful in a largely male-dominated field. I have made some of my best friends through this organization.”

Leading up to the national conference and job fair, SWE members did resume building and mock interviews. “I ended up receiving several internship offers from that trip,” says Bertelson, who also competes for UW in track and field. This past summer, she accepted an internship offer at Rockwell Collins aerospace and aviation company in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

a girl and a young woman examine a robot
Fall’s Womengineering Conference offers workshops and career information to girls entering sixth through eighth grades. (Photo by Ting Bruderer)

SWE’s outreach events include the annual daylong Womengineering Conference, which brings girls entering the sixth through eighth grades to campus each fall for workshops and to learn more about STEM fields. Another outreach event aimed to encourage more young women to pursue STEM degrees is the annual Women in STEM conference each May. The daylong event welcomes more than 500 junior and senior high school students from across the state to Laramie for hands-on workshops and lab tours and to meet with professionals. 

“This is a great opportunity for young women in Wyoming to learn about all of the different possibilities for STEM careers and college majors, as well as an opportunity to meet some incredible role models in STEM,” says Shawna McBride, senior research scientist in the UW Department of Physics and Astronomy and director of the Wyoming NASA Space Grant Consortium.

McBride adds that many young women in junior high and high school start to lose interest in science and engineering careers, but research shows that, if they see role models who look like them and engage in hands-on STEM experiences, they are much more likely to see themselves as scientists and engineers.

To provide mentors once students reach UW, the College of Engineering and Applied Science offers a Female Mentor Program that pairs accomplished UW alumnae with undergraduate mentees in an effort to establish connections that will last a lifetime. UW also honors outstanding women in STEM with the annual Own It! Awards.

Dent says another challenge for busy STEM majors is socializing and meeting people from outside their majors. That’s why she jumped at the opportunity to help start Phi Sigma Rho. “It’s a place we can be social but not have that time commitment that comes with regular sororities,” she says. They can also support each other and network.

Not only is Dent busy with her major, SWE, Phi Sigma Rho and Engineers Without Borders, but she also co-founded an energy company focused on using natural gas from oil wells. Long term, she hopes to help communities meet their basic needs via engineering projects.

Through support, mentoring, networking and outreach, more women will find success in STEM degrees and careers. In turn, STEM graduates will help meet workforce needs.


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