When she was in high school, Schaefer remembers participating in a robotics competition that she says fueled her interest in computer science. But getting involved was met with an unwelcome challenge.
“It was initially suggested that I do some marketing for the robotics team,” Schaefer says.
“I was like, ‘No thanks. I want to actually build the robot.’”
Schaefer wants to change how women interested in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields are perceived, and perhaps most importantly, she wants to inspire young girls to pursue STEM careers. To do so, the math and computer science major established a new student-run organization at Ursinus, Women in Technology and Science (WiTS).
“I would have wanted a club like this when I was younger,” she explains. “Especially in high school, I was one of the few girls in my math and computer science classes. Sometimes you sort of feel excluded when you’re with people who already seem to know about a topic because they had experience in middle school while girls necessarily didn’t have those experiences.”
Recent studies indicate that women leave STEM career paths at particularly high rates, resulting in steadily decreased representation in those fields at more advanced career stages. As a budding scientist, Schaefer is aiming to counter this trend.
She says she feels that girls aren’t encouraged enough to pursue STEM studies, and it’s difficult to break free of many of the stereotypes that still exist.
“I want more people to be aware of the stereotypes [about women and STEM] and support young women in science and technology,” says Schaefer, whose mother is a scientist. “One thing we’d like to do as a club is get speakers to come to campus. Role models can be really important.”
“If girls see other women doing science, they’ll know that they can do it, too. We want to have a support system here so girls can feel included. We want to expand that support system to middle and elementary schools in any way we can. We’re ambitious,” she says.
With that ambitious nature — more than 60 students have already signed up for the club — Schaefer will lead WiTS to evoke change from the Ursinus campus and beyond. –by Leighnah Perkins ’17