Individuals from historically marginalized or underrepresented genders (HUGs), including ciswomen, transgender and nonbinary people, are more likely to leave the STEM research career pathway after earning their degrees than their non-HUG peers. While women represent 20% of engineering students, they make up only 12% of the engineering workforce. The low percentage of female engineers may be credited to the fact that HUG students experience additional professional devaluation, chilly campus climates, and thus, feel excluded in STEM programs. To address the disparities, we propose a student-led initiative, launched in Fall 2022, that promotes the pursuit of research careers among students self-identified as HUG in the department of electrical and computer engineering. We present three one-hour panel discussions, a mentoring program, and a town hall meeting in the first semester of the research initiative. Additionally, we present feedback from surveys administered to attendees that informed iterative changes to events throughout the program.
Three key elements are envisioned to support a successful HUG researcher: developing research career skill sets, networking opportunities, and community. Therefore, the events aim to provide a platform for communication between graduates and undergraduates, department staff and faculty members. Senior students and faculty members are invited to the panel discussions to share their research experiences and give advice on research skill development. Various topics, including undergrad research opportunities, graduate school application, and orientation of grad students, were discussed in the panel events to demystify what it means to be a researcher. Similarly, the mentoring program was launched during the semester to pair the graduate students with the undergraduates to give one-on-one (or near peer) advice on graduate school applications and research experiences. Moreover, a town hall meeting was held at the end of fall semester to collect the feedback on the difficulties HUG students face when pursuing their degrees in the department and improvement recommendations were shared with department faculty and leadership.
This paper details the event design, topics we have discussed, and materials developed to help students access campus resources. Over 100 students have attended initiative events, from first-year undergraduates to PhD students. A diversity of student identities were represented by attendees and reported in this paper. Post-event surveys are collected and presented. With the feedback, we assess the impact of various STEM-focused events to support the research career interest of HUG students at different career stages. This work aims to provide a framework for how to support students with minoritized gender identities in the research community. Specifically, we offer suggestions to create a safe and supportive departmental environment to support HUG-identifying students in research careers.
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