Women at OSU strive to create an inclusive environment for women in STEM

This illustration depicts a female OSU STEM student looking into the universe through a microscope. As more and more women graduate with STEM degrees, the world of scientific discovery continues to broaden.

This March we celebrate Women’s History Month, a month dedicated to celebrating women and their extraordinary achievements. Some women at Oregon State University involved in the STEM fields have created support networks for women to help each other thrive during this uncertain time.

STEM fields include the areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Sowmya Jujjuri, third-year computer science student at OSU is one of the co-presidents for the Association for Computing Machinery’s Women in Computing this term. 

“I am very proud of the ACM-W board members,” Jujuuri said via email. “As my fellow co-president, Chitali Buge, and I took on the role to lead ACM-W this term we needed to not only learn how to lead the board but also overcome the challenge of engaging our members virtually. With the work from board members and industry speakers, we were able to finish our term with our last successful meeting last week.”

Jujjuri said her dad is a software architect at Salesforce and she grew up watching him work on his projects. She said her dad always motivated her to try out various STEM-related activities throughout her childhood and he always supported her interest in STEM.

“What drives me to continue in STEM is my desire to be someone who can cultivate other women’s interests in technology, just like how my dad helped me,” Jujjuri said. “I really enjoy making myself a resource to new computer science students, because I realized the importance of finding a mentor during my first few years in college. So when I face a challenge as a STEM major what keeps me going is knowing that with my experience and success I can help other women in technology find their place and overcome their challenges.”

For Andrea Tongsak, a second-year computer science student at OSU, the most challenging thing for her as a woman in the STEM field is finding opportunities to connect with other womxn outside of her classes. 

“Since most classes are remote now, many of my interactions with my peers happen with the gamer ‘bro’ culture on Discord,” Tongsak said via email. “That has led to a few run-ins online where I’ve felt uncomfortable speaking up at some off-color jokes. Being the only visible woman in the room is often very isolating, and while I’ve made some great connections with other classmates through this, I’ve needed to take a step back and frame it as a way to prove myself. This term, I’ve noticed only six [computer science] majors in my data structures class that are womxn, out of a total of 101.”

Fourth-year computer science student Sonia Camacho said she has been creating an inclusive and encouraging community on Instagram and YouTube where other girls who are in STEM can feel comfortable talking about their interest and share their stories to motivate others to join the field.

America Rodriguez, a third-year civil engineering student at OSU said she believes that this year Women’s History Month has brought more awareness due to the pandemic. 

Rodriguez said in an email that virtual socialization increased tremendously because of social media and has allowed more connections across the country. 

“I have seen more women communities being built as well [as] more women being social influencers for what they stand [for],” Rodriguez said. “I started Chingonas in STEM a year ago with the main purpose to encourage Latinx in STEM to share their STEM journey so they can feel proud [about] how far they have come and at the same time serve as role models to other Latinxs.”

Chingonas is a Spanish word that would roughly translate to a bad-ass or strong woman.

“As I manage our organization, I have seen an increase in women in STEM being STEM influencers and using their platforms to inform others on what they do, [discuss] barriers they have to overcome, share the work they do and more,” Rodriguez said. “All this makes me so content.”

Women’s History Month is a time to reflect on how women have been helping each other rise up in spite of repressive environments throughout history, and these STEM leaders are just another example of women’s resilience.