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Brookdale Hosts ‘Women in STEM’ Panel Discussion
WomeninSTEM-6

To celebrate National Engineers Week, six members of the Southern New Jersey chapter of the Women of AT&T visited Brookdale on Feb. 21 to share their personal experiences and answer questions about working in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields.

Dozens of students packed into Brookdale’s Student Life Center for the panel discussion, sponsored by Brookdale’s Physics and Astronomy Club, the Engineering Student Association, the Women in Engineering, Science and Technology (WEST) Club, and the Office of Student Life and Activities.

Panel members included chemical/software engineer Elvin Chern; physicist Michele Kotiuga; computer scientist Mary Keefe-Hirsekorn; Brookdale alumni and biomedical scientist Caitlin Daigle; architect Anne Stich; and Brookdale alumni and physicist Patty Miller-Pittman.

Adjunct mathematics professor Pamela Bogdan, who also works as a principal member of technical staff for AT&T, served as the moderator for the discussion.

The speakers began by discussing their personal journeys in STEM. Some had a lifelong passion for science, computers and mathematics, while others started out in disciplines such as nursing or psychology before being introduced to their field of study.

While many of the speakers encountered some resistance while trying to break into the male-dominated world of STEM, all said it was worth the effort.

“Some women have had horrible experiences,” Keefe-Hirsekorn said. “But a lot has changed in the last 35 years. Sometimes you just have to fight for what you think is right. It may be rough going here and there, but most of your work experiences are going to be positive.”

Panel members then took questions from the audience on a wide range of topics, including the expansion of artificial intelligence, the importance of computer proficiency in STEM fields and  the most promising career paths for new STEM professionals.

Students participate in panel discussion with STEM professionals on Feb. 21.

Students participate in panel discussion with STEM professionals on Feb. 21.

The speakers also provide tips and strategies for a successful transition from the classroom to the workplace.

While opportunities in academia, and particular university-level teaching, are shrinking, panel members said there are new opportunities every day for qualified STEM professionals.

From data analysis for companies like Facebook and Square to research and laboratory work for private organizations, today’s STEM majors have the freedom to work in multiple capacities and ultimately find a line of work they are passionate about, panel members said.

“You are going to have to continually teach yourself,” Kotiuga said. “And it is so much easier to teach yourself when you really enjoy what you are doing.”

Following the discussion, a number of students said they were more confident than ever in their chosen career path.

“Even though I have a clear-cut plan on what I want to be, the speakers today made me feel more assured,” said Esra Celik, a second-year biology major. “Original plans sometimes fall through, and I learned that it’s normal to consider new opportunities if that happens.”

Brookdale and the AT&T Pioneers program will partner to host a Student Success and STEM Career Exploration Workshop on March 1 from 6-8 p.m. at Brookdale’s Long Branch Higher Education Center. Free pizza will be served.

Check out more photos from the panel-discussion here.

– Article and photos by Minh Connors, college relations intern