Setting the World on WiSFiRE: UConn faculty hold women in STEM expo

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The Women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) Frontiers in Research Expo hosted a range of UConn faculty to share their research on Jan. 31. 


Logo proposal for Wikipedia article contest about Women in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). This is a logo used to represent Women all over the world participating in STEM.  Photo by    CEllen

Logo proposal for Wikipedia article contest about Women in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). This is a logo used to represent Women all over the world participating in STEM. Photo by CEllen

Speakers attended representing many different departments, from materials science and engineering to orthopedics. Among those attending were Baikun Li, Centennial Professor in Civil and Environmental Engineering; Leslie Shor, Associate Dean for Research and Graduate Education, and Associate Professor in Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering; and Maria Chrysochoou, Associate Professor and Department Head of Civil and Environmental Engineering. 

The day began with breakfast and opening remarks from Dr. Radenka Maric, the Vice President for Research, Innovation and Entrepreneurship at UConn. This was followed by presentations on various areas of research and breakout networking sessions. 

WiSFiRE, which was hosted for the first time this year, was co-organized by Dr. Anna Tarakanova, a mechanical engineering professor, and Dr. Qian Yang, a computer science and engineering professor. 

Genevieve Kunkel, a first-year PhD student in mechanical engineering and a volunteer at the event, said she initially got involved because Tarakanova was her advisor. Kunkel said she was glad to help out because she supported the conference’s intention of promoting women in the sciences. 

“I think it’s really rare to have this kind of event specifically addressing women in science, and even more having women speak about their own personal paths through their careers,” Kunkel said. “Sometimes with these kinds of expositions or symposiums, you have a bunch of really talented people speaking about their research, which is always great, but I think it was a really great learning experience for students to help them navigate their own path. There was a much more personal element to it.” 

Part of the purpose of the conference was to not only discuss research, but also to explore the experience of being a woman in STEM. Second-semester physiology and neurobiology major Rose Pacik-Nelson said that aspect was one part of the conference she enjoyed the most. 

“It’s always cool to learn about things that people are doing and how people have gone about finding questions to answer,” Pacik-Nelson said. “That was really interesting because it gave a more overall look at overcoming challenges and getting to a place in your life when you feel comfortable saying that you’ve gotten somewhere.” 

The conference concluded with a panel on what it’s like to have a career in STEM, specifically in academia. One member of the panel was Dr. Lesley Frame, an assistant professor in materials science and engineering. 


The percentage of female students enrolled in engineering, manufacturing and construction programs in higher education in different parts of the world.  Graphic from    UNESCO   .

The percentage of female students enrolled in engineering, manufacturing and construction programs in higher education in different parts of the world. Graphic from UNESCO.

“They asked me if I would be part of the panel, and I said yes right away,” Frame said of the conference. “I thought it was an excellent idea. It helps demonstrate the strength in the female faculty here at UConn. One of the obstacles that a lot of women in STEM have is seeing good role models. One nice thing about this conference is that it pulled together a lot of role models and showcased them.” 

As for what advice Frame would give undergraduate engineering students, she recommended learning outside the classroom. 

“Get involved in hands-on opportunities,” Frame said. “Not just lab work in a class, but volunteering in a lab doing research or getting paid to do research or being in one of these clubs on campus. There’s lots of clubs that allow you to have hands on experience. Do that.” 


Grace McFadden is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at grace.mcfadden@uconn.edu.  

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