Creating Pipelines to Success
Stockton encourages young women to pursue careers in STEM.
By Meaghan Haugh Resta
By Meaghan Haugh Resta
Less than three months after graduating in December, Nephthaly Jean-Charles ’16 landed a job with chocolate and cocoa manufacturer Barry Callebaut. As a microbiologist quality assurance technician, Jean-Charles works in product safety where she tests for salmonella and ensures the products are safe for consumer consumption.
Jean-Charles recently returned to Stockton to present at this year’s American Association of University Women (AAUW) of New Jersey’s Teentech program, designed to encourage 9-11th grade girls to explore the many high-demand, well-paying careers in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). As Jean-Charles instructed the young women to build water filters, which they used to test water from Lake Fred, she provided insight on her biotech career, as well as the problem-solving and research skills needed on the job.
Stockton also partners with AAUW to host Tween Tech for middle school students in January and Tech Trek for middle school girls. The AAUW programs are also among the many initiatives coordinated by Stockton’s STEM Collaborative, which aims to recruit and retain talented students, particularly from underrepresented groups in STEM fields.
Claudine Keenan, dean of the School of Education, and Peter Straub, dean of the School of Natural Sciences & Mathematics, oversee the collaborative.
“Stockton continues to lead the state in degrees granted to STEM fields,” Keenan said. Stockton presently grants almost 22 percent of all the science and mathematics undergraduate degrees among New Jersey’s senior state colleges and universities. “Sponsored programs like Teentech continue to aim at narrowing the gender equity gap in these fields,” she added.
Straub said Stockton’s STEM Collaborative supported projects this year with a particular focus on inclusion.
In addition to the AAUW programs, this year’s projects also included the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program, The Science Enrichment Academy at Stockton, K-12 Neuroscience education, Sea Perch robotics and K-12 school visits to Stockton with the Center for Community Engagement and STEAM workshops in art and science with the School of Arts & Humanities. The STEM Collaborative has also outfitted a tech lab with 3-D printers to promote technology education and STEM K-12 outreach, Straub added.
“The key to closing the gender gap in STEM is educational opportunity, inclusion, support and recognition of the strength of diversity in informing the creative process of scientific discovery,” Straub explained.
Jean-Charles is among the many students who have benefited from Stockton’s STEM Collaborative.
A native of Haiti, Jean-Charles said she developed an interest in biology while observing how the country could “improve its health care system and provide its people with effective and affordable medicine.”
“By the time I reached high school and learned about the cell and the mechanisms inside of it and how it can repair itself, it was mind blowing for me,” she said.
At Stockton, Jean-Charles majored in Biology with a minor in Chemistry. She gained research experience working alongside Tara Luke, associate professor of Biology, and other student researchers on a project analyzing a specific coral DNA. She also participated in the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program. (Read more about Stockton’s participation on page 16).
“Those independent research opportunities helped me master the same skills that I now apply at my job,” she said.
It was while taking a course in genetics with Luke and a course in molecular genetics with Karen York, associate professor of Biology, that Jean-Charles discovered her calling. Eventually, Jean-Charles would like to become a geneticist in the medical field. She is currently looking for graduate schools that will best help her achieve her goals.
Jean-Charles hopes to inspire other young women to pursue careers in STEM. “I urge them to try,” she said. “If they are interested in any science but feel it’s too far from their other interests, they can always find a road in the middle. If they are into gaming they can create a gaming app. If they are into cosmetics, learn about the chemistry behind the makeup and make longer lasting makeup. If they’re into building and drawing, look into architecture and engineering. If they’re into bugs and flowers, study what makes them special and different and see how they can incorporate that into their lives in making a better life. The possibilities are endless.”
Earlier in her career as a chemist, Lori Vermeulen, provost and vice president for Academic Affairs at Stockton, witnessed firsthand the “leaky pipeline” in science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields. At the time, Vermeulen was one of only four women out of 72 scientists working at a pharmaceutical company. She watched how her female peers gradually left the STEM fields because of the challenges they faced as women working in predominantly male fields.
Despite the pressure and unequal support of women, Vermeulen persisted. As she continued to advance her career in the sciences and later as an administrator in higher education, she said, “I found myself being the only woman at the table.”
Vermeulen, who shared her experiences at this year’s American Association of University Women (AAUW) of New Jersey’s Tween Tech and Teentech programs, said she found being the only woman at the table gave her an advantage.
“If you are in a discipline that is dominated by one gender or ethnic group, and you are bringing diversity, you’re bringing a different way of looking at and thinking about a problem,” she told participants at Tween Tech in January.
She encourages young women considering careers in STEM. “Don’t give up,” she said. “It’s all persistence. Persistence leads to success. If you should fail, see what you can learn from that.”