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ARCS Helps Empower Women in STEM

Posted on Monday, August 12, 2019

In a new proactive leadership initiative that other chapters can adopt or adapt, ARCS Metro Washington Chapter (MWC) has been participating in “Women in STEM” events held by its partner universities. The initiative is a “win–win” for the chapter and the university students, increasing awareness and visibility of ARCS in the community while empowering women entering STEM fields through members sharing personal insights. This effort is an outgrowth of the increasing number of MWC members who are practicing or retired STEM professionals, coupled with invitations from three of MWC’s university partners to participate in their programs and be role models for their students and alumni.  

In spring/summer 2019, MWC scientists, engineers, and lawyers attended networking symposia with impressive students at George Washington University (“Women in Engineering,” March 27), Johns Hopkins University (“JHU Women of Whiting [STEM] Symposium,” April 6), and Georgetown University (“The Vera Rubin Symposium,” June 26). The Georgetown University event was held in honor of Vera Rubin, the groundbreaking astronomer who received her PhD from Georgetown in 1954. Her research on galaxy rotation rates proved that dark matter exists.

During these events, MWC members played several roles, ranging from moderating panels to judging posters to informing attendees about the ARCS organization. The community learned about the mission of ARCS Foundation and local chapter activities, and MWC members learned about the successes and challenges facing the university students. As noted in this article describing the Johns Hopkins event, participants (including MWC members) celebrated their successes but also shared the hard lessons learned from their own experiences, as they discussed communication and negotiation strategies, work-life balance, and career planning. 

At the Georgetown University symposium, the panelists and moderator—astrophysicists at various stages of their careers—also shared the lessons learned along their paths to success, emphatically encouraging those in the audience to seek out mentors and to network. MWC members then facilitated a session where students shared many positive strategies for successfully furthering their careers. MWC members also shared their experiences, acting as role models and paying forward lessons learned from their mentors. Students and faculty from Georgetown University, as well as from universities across the nation, including the University of Michigan, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Stanford University, offered to bring these strategies back to their departments to help spread the word.  

Patty Sparrell (Co-President, MWC) speaks for all ARCS members when she says, “I am excited to have the opportunity to increase the awareness and support of the ARCS mission. As a retired STEM professional, I am excited to share my experiences and support the success of women in the STEM fields.”

These activities help empower students; increase visibility of ARCS in the community and among the faculty, staff, and alumni of partner universities; provide opportunities to expand membership in ARCS, and are engaging and enjoyable for members. A “win–win" for all!