AWIS Kentucky: Working to Support Women in Science

By Leah Cannon posted 09-22-2017 08:34


The Association for Women in Science (AWIS) advocates for women working in STEM fields. I caught up with Adriana Bankston, Founder and President of the Kentucky Affiliate of AWIS, to find out what inspired her to start the affiliate group and how they support women in science.

Why did you start the Kentucky Affiliate of the Association for Women in Science (AWIS)?

In June 2016, I was contacted by AWIS National as they were trying to increase the membership of AWIS in Kentucky. At the time I was one of very few members of AWIS in Kentucky. I wanted to bring this opportunity to women in STEM in Kentucky, and to help them connect with each other and grow a network that would support them in their careers. I started the AWIS Kentucky Affiliate, a group of people with common interests getting together to talk about issues affecting women in STEM. During my time serving as President of the group, interest has grown and we participated in a few local activities. Our leadership has also recently expanded to include a Vice-President (Dr. Isabel Escobar, a faculty member the University of Kentucky) and a Communications Coordinator (Sarah Price, a graduate student at the University of Louisville). We are currently looking for people to fill more leadership positions in the group. We also hope to also expand our reach to other universities across Kentucky over the next year, and to eventually become a chapter of AWIS.

What does AWIS Kentucky do?

The overall goal of the group is to create a local network and advocate for women in STEM in Kentucky, as well as provide them with career development and outreach opportunities. Since we are still a small group, we mostly participated in local outreach activities aimed at encouraging girls of various ages with an interest in STEM to pursue this career path. These events also helped get the name of the group out there more. In the future, we would like to engage in many more types of events, including networking & social, advocacy & policy, career development, and additional types of community outreach.

What sort of events do you run?

We have had multiple types of events over the last year, which you can read more about on our website. We initially invited speakers to talk to female graduate students and postdocs at the University of Louisville about AWIS, and about the significance and potential implications of gender gap in science. This latter talk was given by two men, which was a very interesting experience for the participants. I was also invited to give a talk at a science and engineering club at a local high school on the obstacles faced by women in STEM. I also gave other talks about my career path in various local settings (including to a middle school girls STEM track), as related to my current role at the non-profit organization Future of Research. It has been a very enjoyable experience and very encouraging to see what the next generation of women scientists looks like. Other events we participated in were judging posters at a regional science and engineering fair, and speed mentoring as part of a local conference meant to inspire young women to explore STEM careers. In terms of larger events, we recently participated in a local STEM summer camp for rising 4th-6th graders to spark their interest in science. Several events mentioned above were organized by duPont Manual high school students, which is also very inspiring. Finally, earlier this year we participated in the Women’s March in both Louisville and Lexington, KY.

How can people get involved?

Check out our website to find out more about our events and leadership opportunities. We also have a mailing list that people can join to keep up with and volunteer for current and future events. In addition, we recently started a blog and are looking for people to write articles about issues faced by women in STEM, personal stories and/or interviews to showcase women in STEM in Kentucky. Feel free to contact us if you would like to be interviewed. You can also join our Facebook group and LinkedIn group to learn more about local or national news, opportunities and resources for women in STEM. You can also follow us on Twitter or email us directly at [email protected] with any questions, concerns, or ideas we should be exploring or relevant events that we might have missed. We are always looking for volunteers for our events as well, so feel free to get in touch with us if you would like to contribute.

Can only women join?

Absolutely not! The group is for anyone who supports women in STEM in Kentucky. We encourage men to participate in local events in the community, and we’d like to hear more about their perspectives on how we can help retain more women in STEM fields. Please get in touch with us if you would like to volunteer.

What can all scientists and labs do to improve gender equality in academia?

Volunteering at local events to encourage middle school or high school girls with an interest in science is a very effective way for them to see what a successful female scientist looks like and to ask questions one-on-one. Beyond outreach events, another way to advocate for women in STEM is to join societies like AWIS, AAUW and ASCB. You can also write blog posts about any issues that are important to you related to women in STEM, and raise awareness towards trying to come up with actions towards improving some of these things. Keeping up with the issues that women in STEM are facing at the national level and applying for fellowships and awards in this area are also good ways to make a more meaningful contribution at a broader level. In labs specifically, we can make sure to include diversity as a factor to consider when hiring people, so as to encourage more women to pursue and remain in STEM fields. Within the lab, we can also strive to create a positive and supportive environment where people help each other advance in their careers, and feel comfortable discussing personal issues they may experience. Another thing to consider is being understanding that sometimes women face more pressures in academia, particularly if they are married and have children. I encourage everyone in the academic setting to think about how they might be able to help women balance research with family life in a more effective way.

What should we do to make sure that girls are interested in pursuing STEM careers?

Take the opportunity to talk to them as much as possible in multiple settings and get to know them on a personal level. Find out what they like about science and try to encourage them to build upon those interests by participating in summer camps and other similar events. Also talk to them about your career path and the things that helped you move forward along the way. Encourage them to always ask questions about things they don’t understand and speak up to build their confidence early on, which will be very useful when they enter the workforce.

Join the Life Science Network to access more news, articles and in-depth reports and to join discussions with thousands of your peers.