A Creighton graduate and Creighton faculty member shared their experiences in STEM fields, good and bad, at an event titled “Seeing Yourself in STEM: Women in Science” on March 29 at the Harper Ballroom.
The event, hosted by the Creighton’s Eileen B. Lieben Center for Women, invited Creighton alumna Courtney Batterson as the keynote speaker. Batterson graduated from Creighton in 2017 with a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Science and minors in Meteorology and Communication Studies.
Batterson discussed her time at Creighton and how influences from faculty and a Creighton alumnus eventually led to her successfully applying for an internship that took place in the summer of 2016 at NASA’s Ames Research Center, located in Mountain View, California.
In her internship, she worked as a Planetary System Science Intern for the Mars Climate Modeling Center in the Space Science Astrobiology Division of NASA Ames. The research she did at NASA Ames was used for her senior research requirement for her Environmental Science degree.
Batterson spoke highly of her experiences at NASA Ames. One important value that was reinforced while at NASA Ames was to ask questions when needed. Asking questions helped to develop necessary skills on the job and could find and create strengths, said Batterson.
“No one has ever made fun of me for asking anything,” said Batterson.
Also discussed in Batterson’s keynote speech were various models she developed regarding the climate of Mars. Batterson noted that she was one of few women working on projects, and that many of the senior scientists were “very awkward people.”
Batterson also gave glowing praise to the influence the Environmental Science program at Creighton had on her studies, internship and career.
“The Environmental Science Department at Creighton was the catalyst to my success,” Batterson said. “It was their flexibility that allowed me to blend the ATS and EVS degrees to fit my needs, their one-on-one counsel that inspired my work, and their selflessness that provided me everything I needed to graduate from Creighton and succeed after college.”
For the past two years after graduation, Batterson has worked as an assistant research scientist with the Mars Climate Modeling Center at NASA Ames and has also been working on her master’s degree in meteorology at San Jose State University in California.
After Batterson’s speech, a question-and-answer panel with three female members of Creighton’s faculty occurred.
The panel included Hollie Siebler, a resident assistant professor of cell biology in the Department of Biology; Patricia Soto, an associate professor of Physics; and Aimee Schwab-McCoy, an assistant professor of Mathematics. All three agreed that they had not had any discrimination happen based on their gender while working at Creighton.
However, all three also had been patronized in varying forms for working in STEM over their studies and careers.
“There are just going to be some people who will treat you differently” based on gender in STEM fields regardless of location, said Schwab-McCoy.
The audience, consisting primarily of women, also found familiar experiences to those in the panel.
Margaret Johnston, a graduate student in Physics, related to the patronizing experiences the panelists had experienced.
“Dealing with someone who doesn’t believe in your competence is a deeply personal thing,” said Johnston.
The pathway taken by Batterson was familiar to another student in the audience.
“Courtney’s experiences she shared felt more alike than different to mine,” said Sam Hughes, a Creighton College of Arts and Sciences student. “With my research, I showed up to speak with my [principal investigators] and even though I wasn’t qualified, I was excited about the possibility and opportunity, so they gave me a chance."
Kathy Craig, Director for Innovation, Research and Development at Creighton, recounted the different expectations in STEM fields for women when she was doing her studies.
Though Craig said “[Batterson] is from a different generation (or two)” from herself, Craig said several of Batterson’s experiences were still familiar to her.
A major difference Craig mentioned in STEM fields was that she “grew up when those fields were very much male dominated,” even in comparison to today.
“I was told by the assistant to the professor I was doing my research with, that I should not get pregnant because he would drop me immediately as he had done to another in the past,” Craig said of an experience in her graduate program in oceanography.
“As it turned out, he did not drop me, but I only had two weeks before I returned to work,” she continued. “Times do change, but sometimes slowly when it comes to certain roles/expectations for women.”
Beyond a number of other incidents, Craig said she “did not have a lot of challenges being a woman in STEM fields,” similar to the generally positive experiences of the event’s speakers.