Kent State’s Scientista chapter holds first symposium

Ariel Reid

The Kent State University Library hosted the first Scientista Symposium Friday from 3:00 – 6:00 p.m., which featured presentations and discussions from Kent State women in fields involving science, technology, engineering, math and medicine (STEM).

“There is a preconceived notion that women and girls aren’t interested in science,” Suguna Rachakonda, the keynote speaker at the symposium, said. “Is that true?”

The immediate response of, “No” from the all-female crowd of around 30 made the question seem rhetorical, but, according to Rachakonda, females in STEM programs still face difficult barriers.

The symposium featured 14 posters and 10 oral presentations. Both undergraduate and graduate students moved around the room to discuss their research, talk more with Rachakonda one-on-one and socialize with other women in STEM.

From both the posters and the oral presentations, nearly every conceivable area of STEM was covered, and some not usually considered such as Shuti Bhairappanavar, a student from the College of Architecture and Environmental Design presenting research on high performance buildings.

The women in attendance, who listened closely to their peers and asked thoughtful, directed questions to further the conversation.

“I felt that the Q&A’s were very helpful with understanding the full message from the presentations,” said Jaynell Nicholson, the president of the undergraduate branch of the Scientistas. “They also allowed the graduate students to know what information they should include in their presentation that they left out.”

Snigdha Snigdha, a computer science major who is developing a scheduling application, received the most questions of all the presenters, many of who were biology and chemistry students. Some even offered advice and ways Snigdha could improve her app, called “MOM.”

The app is meant to ease the struggles of students transitioning “from home to dorm,” according to the abstract written in the symposium’s agenda book.

The goal of Snigdha’s app, “Not a band-aid but an antidote,” is one that also applied to the messages of Rachakonda and the Scientista organization itself.

Rachakonda spoke on how women, in order to subvert the fallacy that they need to choose between things like cosmetics or shoes and having an interest in science, need to consistently be exposed to all their options from a young age.

“There is no limit to where you can be.” Rachakonda said. “Women find a balance in science, career and family.”

Sangeetha Selvam, a graduate student in the department of chemistry and biochemistry, is the president of the graduate chapter of Scientistas. She, like several other members at the symposium, was wearing a black t-shirt with white and lilac lettering reading: “This is what a Scientista looks like.”

Selvam wants the organization to keep women devoted to their STEM degrees and career paths, which Rachakonda spoke about being difficult when young women don’t see female role models in positions they seek.

“A lack of support is what we’re trying to compensate for,” Selvam said.

With Rachakonda’s message of “envision, empower, execute” and the motto of empowering women at the heart of the Scientista organization, Nicholson sees a lot of similarities in what women in STEM want for themselves and each other.

“She was very inspiring,” said Nicholson. “And I wish that there were more people in attendance to hear it.”

Ariel Reid is the sciences reporter for The Kent Stater, contact her at [email protected]