Students Attend Women in STEM Summit

By Jorja Rose '18

 Conference attendees gather in the Wheaton science building. 

Conference attendees gather in the Wheaton science building. 

This past Friday, 25 Bennington students loaded into the school shuttles and drove down to Wheaton College in Norton, Massachusetts, for the school’s second annual Women in STEM Conference.

The conference, which took place all day Saturday, welcomed students, faculty, and businesswomen in STEM fields to partake in a day of workshops, presentations, and networking. The purpose of the conference, which Wheaton plans to host annually, is to enable young women to better envision themselves in STEM fields and to build a strong community of women in STEM across New England.

The conference gave several Bennington students the opportunity to present their own work in science and math. Alexandra Nordyke, ‘20, and Emma Salazar, ‘19, both gave talks about their recent work with the chemical contaminant PFOA in the Bennington area. Amanda Bacon, ‘19, gave a presentation titled, “Radon, Muons, and Weird Curveons,” about the cloud chamber she’s been rebuilding in Dickinson. Shana Crawford, ‘18, engaged the audience with her presentation on mathematical braids. And, last but not least, Aryana Arian Assl, ‘20, impressed with a truly interdisciplinary talk, titled, “The Relationship Between the Mind of the Film Composer and the Mind of the Listener.”

 Amanda Bacon, '19, gives a physics presentation. 

Amanda Bacon, '19, gives a physics presentation. 

Presentations and panels on “Imposter Syndrome” and “Using Your Courage” brought together impressive groups of faculty and professionals to deliberate on how women might build up their own confidence. However, a few Bennington students noted that these conversations seemed to get at the internalized factors that keep women out of STEM fields while neglecting other, more institutional problems. As Sarah Gross, ‘18, reflects, “Issues such harassment and discrimination in the workplace or how to combat double standards and advocate for female peers were all conspicuously absent from the day's topics.”

 Sarah Gross and Ferne Johansson, both '18, chat before the start of the "Imposter Syndrome" lecture.

Sarah Gross and Ferne Johansson, both '18, chat before the start of the "Imposter Syndrome" lecture.

The best part of the day seemed to be the interactive workshops given by Wheaton faculty. “I went to one called ‘Decoding Sharks’ and that was really cool,” says Alex Luttery, ‘21. Another workshop, called “A Day in the Life of a Field Ornithologist,” took students out into a patch of forest where they watched Professor Jessie Knowlton remove chickadees and woodpeckers from a bird-catching net as she explained her trapping and tagging procedures.

 Professor Jessie Knowlton holds a tiny woodpecker in her hands. 

Professor Jessie Knowlton holds a tiny woodpecker in her hands. 

Bennington Professor Kathryn Montovan led the trip for the second year in a row. Thanks to her efforts, the Bennington attendance more than tripled.

The final lecture of the day, delivered by Dr. Daniela Rus, an MIT professor and this year’s recipient of the Wheaton Women in STEM Award, veered into futuristic territory. Rus described her lifelong passion for robots, and how she envisions a time when driverless cars and artificial intelligence are fully integrated into human life.

After that, Bennington students hit the road, reflecting on the day’s events during the ride home. They arrived back to campus around 9:30 PM, utterly exhausted but a little more STEM-savvy.