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Last modified: Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Female undergrads in IU's STEM initiatives explore careers at Argonne National Laboratory

April 23, 2013

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Last year as incoming freshman Samantha Harvey was ready to sign up for student housing at Indiana University, she made a decision that may change her life. While most people see home as a place to get away from work, Harvey chose student housing that would immerse her in her area of study.

Argonne Tour

Science, technology and mathematics initiatives at IU recently sent a group of undergraduate women from the Bloomington campus to Argonne National Laboratory. Pictured, front row from left, are IU students Marissa Martinez, Marisa Peredo, Serena Li, Ariel Hunt and Mikayla Flanagan; middle row from left, Jourdan Jenkins, Kendra Morris, Kerri Reese, Rasheedah Johnson, Chryssa Athans, Lucia Corvalan and Argonne's Joanne Stubbs; and back row from left, University of Chicago's Yu-Sheng Chen, IU students Katie Tietz, Brittany Duncan, Kim Jenkins, Samantha Harvey and Mariah Chambers, Julianne Martin of the IU Office of the Provost and Executive Vice President, and Argonne's Binhua Lin and Mati Meron.

Print-Quality Photo

Harvey was one of 20 IU undergraduates who last year became initial members of the Women in Science, Technology and Mathematics community residential program designed for young women interested in those fields. The students live on the same floor of a residence hall, share in mentoring, tutoring and research opportunities, and occasionally take advantage of special programming that takes them to some of the most advanced science and research facilities in North America.

"When I was signing up for housing, I noticed that there were many different groups that I could choose to live in, and the Women in STM community really stood out to me because I thought that it would be a great place to live and help with my degree," Harvey said.

Her intuitions were right, she said while reflecting on a recent overnight stay and full day of tours and meetings at Argonne National Laboratory with about 20 other IU undergraduate women. Just outside Chicago, Argonne employs 1,250 scientists, and also 650 graduate and undergraduate students, who work on some of the most advanced research topics related to energy, the environment and national security.

"The whole trip was spectacular, and I was particularly interested in the Center for Nanoscale Materials because I am staying in Bloomington for a research internship this summer that is very much related to nanoparticles and materials chemistry," said Harvey, whose internship will be supported by the Women in STM program. "The number of projects that are now taking place at the center is helping to open a whole new area of study, and it's one that I am definitely interested in."

Kendra Morris, a junior who grew up near Chicago and is now majoring in human biology and African American and African Diaspora Studies at IU, also spent the day at Argonne. She visited the Advanced Photon Source -- a building larger than a Major League Baseball stadium that houses X-ray beamlines and particle detectors used for studying molecules, atoms and proteins -- and other world-class scientific assets like the Center for Nanoscale Materials and the Argonne Leadership Computing Facility.

Morris is one of 50 students enrolled this year in IU's Groups Science, Technology, Engineering and Math Initiative, a program created for first-generation, under-served students interested in becoming research scientists, physicians and professionals in allied health fields. While not a residential program like Women in STM, the Groups STEM Initiative has been closely linked to the Atkins Living Learning Center for years. It is but one initiative within the Groups Scholars Program that was founded in 1968 to address low college attendance rates among first-generation, low-income and physically challenged students at IU.

Next year, both the Women in STM community and Atkins Living Learning Center will be housed at Forest Residence Hall, near many of IU's science, technology and mathematics buildings. The priority deadline for qualified students to file for housing in the Women in STM community or Atkins Living Learning Center is May 1, and applications already on file can be updated to include new preferences. Applications will continue to be accepted for both residential communities after May 1 if space is available.

"The knowledge I gained and the wonderful people I met at Argonne really opened my eyes up to all of the opportunities that I have being an African American female majoring in a STEM field," Morris said. "Being a female majoring in a STEM field is very challenging, so it is very important to have the right kind of support system. It was because of the wonderful opportunities the Groups STEM program was providing that I knew it would educate, motivate, support, encourage and prepare me down the pathway of success beyond my undergraduate years."

Maren Pink, a senior scientist in the IU College of Arts and Sciences' Department of Chemistry who is also director of IU's Molecular Structure Center, initiated the Argonne visit for Groups STEM Initiative and Women in STM, a first for both programs. An IU researcher who has long been active in initiatives for women in science, Pink said she imagined a visit to an internationally recognized government research facility like Argonne might serve as an inspiring adventure.

"National laboratories oftentimes appear to be inaccessible and mysterious places, but they are really not," Pink said. "I wanted our female undergraduate students who are aiming at STEM careers to see what they can do with a science degree and acquaint them with research opportunities at various levels in their academic career.

"Meeting distinguished female scientists at three top-notch national facilities located at Argonne and getting to know their career paths, struggles and successes will hopefully inspire our students to pursue research in a STEM field," she added. "In addition, I think this helped to convince them that national laboratories can be very much part of a future career, whether they are an occasional user getting results to support their Ph.D. thesis or research, or work at a national laboratory as a post-doc or permanent staff member."

Feedback from beamline staff was also positive. Yu-Sheng Chen, a scientist who specializes in advanced crystallography techniques, said they were "utterly impressed by the lively crowd asking fantastic questions covering cutting-edge research, career advice and work-life balance topics."

"They seemed thrilled about the prospect of having IU undergraduates back in the future," Pink added.

Women in STM is operated through the Office of the Dean of Students in partnership with Residential Programs and Services and with the support of the Office of the Provost and Executive Vice President. The Groups Scholars Program, including Groups STEM, reports to the Office of the Vice President for Diversity, Equity and Multicultural Affairs. Funding for the Argonne trip was provided by the IU Office of the Provost and Executive Vice President.