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Women and STEM at the United Nations

IDEAS student Sanjana Shree Chintalapudi '17 and program co-director William Best were among a group from Lehigh University that presented at the United Nations’ First International Day of Women and Girls in Science on February 11, alongside diplomats, politicians, educators and other leaders.

Gender equality in science remains a major challenge around the world and the event aimed to influence the perception of women in science and elevate their contributions to scientific discovery.

Presenters spoke about barriers girls and women face, such difficulty accessing education, cultural biases and traditional views that women are primarily caregivers, few mentors and female role models in science and engineering, and lack of flexibility and family-friendly policies at work.

“The reason I think days like this are crucially important … is that it’s the right thing to do,” said Best, professor of practice in mechanics and mechanical engineering. "Equality of opportunity, equality of chance in science and engineering is the right thing to do. It’s also the smart thing to do. … We don’t have enough engineers to solve the problems that we have. We have an untapped potential. … We need new views; we need new approaches to solve those problems.”

IDEAS is one of the few engineering or science programs at Lehigh that is consistently 50 percent or more female. In the United States, only about 20 percent of engineering students are women.

Chintalapudi and fellow classmates Veronica McKinny ’18, Elena Martin ’16 and Sonja Gorman ’16 presented one of the conference’s “youth remarks.”

They spoke about what inspired them to pursue careers in the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and math); some of the barriers to achieving their goals, such as being told at young ages that engineering was for boys; and the supportive professors and mentors at Lehigh.

“It’s exciting to get to speak at this event since I’m a woman in STEM,” said Chintalapudi, who’s majoring in industrial systems engineering and international relations through the IDEAS program.

“I was surprised that this is the first international day that the UN recognized for women in STEM, but it’s exciting that we are being recognized and that we’re finally getting our seat at the table. I’m Indian as well as a woman, and it’s sometimes hard being an engineer since race sometimes gets in the way and gender gets in the way. It’s awesome that I get to share my experiences with the UN.”

Read the full story at the Lehigh University News Center.

-Emily Groff is Director of Communications and Marketing, International Services at Lehigh University.

February 24, 2016

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