Women’s History Month events focus on inclusion and honor women’s achievements

Artwork by Bailey Wood

Katrina Lee, news editor

Na’Kera Richardson addressed an audience at the Women in STEM: A Panel Discussion, speaking candidly about her experiences in science class when she was younger.

“I’ve never seen someone like me. All my science teachers were white or male, and that made me want to go into STEM,” Richardson said.

Women make up just 28% of the science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, workforce. According to American Association of University Women.

Richardson is the COO of “Girls For A Change,” an organization dedicated to empowering black girls in central Virginia to visualize their futures. She was one of five panelists who spoke about their individual and shared experiences in STEM.

The “Women in STEM: A Panel Discussion” event took place on March 15 in the Virginia Room located in the VCU Student Commons. The panel included both women studying STEM and professionals in STEM-related industries.

Sheila Hernandez-Rubio, a physical education and exercise science student and secretary of the Society of Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in STEM, was also one of the panelists.

“I’m a first-generation student and I had to grow up really fast. My parents came to this country so I could get a really good education, and the fact that my parents did that for me really energizes me,” Hernandez-Rubio said.

Hernandez-Rubio said she was pushed by one of her mentors throughout her career to speak out as a woman in a STEM field because of the competitiveness of the industry and the way whose women are often neglected.

“He encouraged me to use my voice because he said people would assume I didn’t have one,” Hernandez-Rubio said.

The roundtable was one of many events organized by the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs to spark discussion about women in society. Other events include discussions on body image, female representation in male-dominated fields and artistic performances by women.

Women’s History Month is a celebration of women’s contributions to history, culture and society. It has been recognized every March in the United States since 1987, according to history.com.

The Office of Multicultural Student Affairs offers “dialogues, presentations and workshops on diversity, inclusion and social justice, cultural heritage month events,” according to its website. The office often sponsors events and discussions for popular cultural heritage months.

Brandi Daniels, OMSA’s Graduate Assistant for Diversity and Inclusion Education and Advocacy, organized and moderated the event. She said this was the first “Women In STEM: A Panel Discussion” hosted by OMSA and said she hoped it would become an annual event showcasing women thriving in STEM.

Daniels said the office hosts cultural heritage events each month to elevate the voices and stories of people who are marginalized in society.

“We hope that with every group that may feel marginalized, we want them to know that they are valued and that we see them,” Daniels said. “Of course, it is also for everyone. We hope to build a bridge between the different groups of people, to create a dialogue and, of course, an eventual unity from the events.

Other OMSA-sponsored events are planned for the remainder of Women’s History Month. Upcoming events include “Womxn of RVA” on Thursday, March 24; “Pay Me, Don’t Play Me” on Tuesday, March 29; and “Being My Own Boss: Redefining Career Paths” on Wednesday, March 30.

Stephanie Bagby, electrical engineer and program manager for renewable energy at Dominion Energy, was also one of the panelists. She said many times during her career that she heard people say that the reason she got to where she was in her career was because she was an African American woman.

“The truth is, you can’t come to the table if you have nothing to offer,” Bagby said.

Bagby also said that one of her goals in the industry is to offer mentorship and guidance to other women who want to enter the STEM field.

“It’s up to us to pay it forward, to help the girls behind us,” Bagby said.

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