What is Women’s History Month and how is it celebrated at ASU?
Women’s History Month is a nationally recognized celebration of all women-identifying individuals in March. Officially declared a month-long celebration in 1987 by Congress, it’s a time for celebration, reflection and awareness related to the challenges and triumphs of women.
Women’s History Month celebrations at Arizona State University are student led and staff supported. Throughout the month of March, there are a variety of events and seminars on topics such as health, mindfulness and navigating the workplace.
Beyond women’s history, ASU focuses on how it can elevate women in the present. Women’s History Month presents a chance to celebrate the accomplishments of women, and also identify opportunities to bridge gaps. One such area is in women studying science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). While STEM-related careers have been traditionally dominated by males, there are an increasing number of female-identifying students pursuing degrees in these fields. Three online professors shared their insights on the importance of supporting these learners now to see greater diversity in science-based careers in the future.
Mentorship and women advocacy matters
At ASU, women are seen in all spaces, especially in leadership and faculty. This visibility is important because it shows learners that work is valued from all members of the community. This may also help female learners identify role models and mentors early in their academic journey, allowing them to build relationships and strengthen their skills.
We talked to three online course professors, who each shared their passion for mentorship and uncovering ways to support women in science.
Susan Holechek, lecturer
Professor Holechek shared that mentoring students has been a priority of hers since she was a graduate student. She’s seen an increase in the number of female-identifying students in her science courses, and she knows the importance of encouraging those on that path.
Knowing the importance of finding a mentor or role model is the driving factor of the School of Life Sciences Undergraduate Research (SOLUR) program. In-person and online students who join SOLUR gain access to faculty mentors in the life sciences, and have the opportunity to get involved in research projects. More than anything, students in the program can network with peers and faculty who share their passions. Career outcomes show this program is working. Eighty-eight percent of SOLUR program graduates found work in STEM-related jobs or have gone on to pursue graduate degrees in medicine or other licensed professions.
Holechek wants her students to know she is there for them and rooting for their success. She encourages her online students to attend office hours and reach out with questions even after they leave her virtual classroom. Having been mentored by strong women herself, she knows the value of having a role model to encourage, inspire and build confidence. Holechek left these words to women pursuing their passion in STEM or other fields: “Believe in yourself. You are strong, smart and beautiful. Also, find a good mentor, do your best academically and don’t be afraid to ask questions.”
Katelyn Cooper, assistant professor
Professor Katelyn Cooper teaches course-based undergraduate research experiences (CUREs), which allow students to engage in practical research projects alongside faculty with the intent to publish their data. She explains that the intention of the program is two-pronged: It allows learners the opportunity to be published while in school and encourages greater diversity in science research. To date, Cooper’s published with 63 CURE students, 46 of those who identify as women. She said, “With this type of gender representation, we're able to be more confident that the different inherent biases we unintentionally bring to our research are counteracted.”
Cooper’s academic research has found that increasing opportunities for undergraduate women in science can lead to greater representation in the field later on. When asked what advice she has for women interested in science careers, she recommended finding a mentor early. Mentors can be women in your community who work in the sciences, a teaching assistant, an instructor, a professor and more. Beyond their title, a mentor should be someone who will support you, advocate for you and promote your accomplishments. Ways your mentor can help you include:
- Celebrating your accomplishments and milestones.
- Helping you navigate uncertainties.
- Providing support when you’re struggling.
- Sharing anecdotes and advice.
- Vetting opportunities.
She humbly shares that she wouldn’t be where she is today without a strong support system of those who value the contributions of women in science. It's her hope to pass on this goodwill to a new generation of women scientists.
Katie Hinde, associate professor
Professor Hinde teaches about women’s experiences holistically. She created a course called Maternal and Child Health that explores this global health issue from the perspectives of biology, anthropology, neurobiology and psychology. Women and child health outcomes are influenced by factors including their family networks, communities, nations and the planet. This nuanced approach helps learners understand how women uniquely interact with society based on their biology and lived experiences.
When delivering her courses, Hinde knows that although not all learners will go on to be specialists in the maternal and child health field, they can take what they learn into other aspects of their lives. Hinde keeps in mind that her students are or may become parents affected by family health issues, or are in positions to vote on policies affecting family health outcomes. When delivering course content, she said it’s “about teaching specific content… but also about teaching the skills so that they can navigate that information landscape long after they've left my virtual classroom.”
How ASU promotes women’s success
When it comes to creating opportunities for women learners at ASU, faculty, such as professors Holechek, Cooper and Hinde, are leading by example. From offering mentorship and networking, research experiences or new approaches to delivering course content, they are furthering ASU’s charter. In part it states that ASU is a university, “measured not by whom it excludes, but by whom it includes and how they succeed.” Women have an equal place in STEM and in all other fields, and the path to success starts in the virtual classroom. This holds true in March and every other month of the year.