According to a recent ranking from Study.com, Centre College is ranked 19th in the nation among Best Overall Schools for Women in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields—career paths that have historically been male-dominated.
The website demonstrates that 27 percent of women graduating from Centre are STEM majors. Study.com’s list was based on the degree options the colleges offer as well as having a “substantial female student body” and “plenty of support systems designed to help women become a success in the field.”
Kristen Fulfer, professor of chemistry at Centre, explains that throughout her college years there was a noticeable absence of women within her field.
“In the ten years that I was a student—undergraduate through my Ph.D.—I took 31 STEM classes (math, chemistry, physics, CS), and only two of those classes were taught by female faculty members. In my first college physics course, I was one of two female students in a class of more than 100. I often felt conflicted, because I really enjoyed math and chemistry, but I also felt like there wasn’t a place for me in science,” said Fulfer.
However, for Centre students, such as Grace Kelly ’21, a biology major, her college experience in the College’s STEM departments has been extremely different.
“I remember my mother always telling my sisters and me that we were capable of being whatever we wanted to be. She would tell us that, in her time, becoming a woman in STEM was extraordinarily difficult, because it was such a male-dominated field. I think as I’ve gotten older, the tides have turned, and more women are getting into STEM, and they feel as if they are more capable of becoming successful through science. Centre enables students, regardless of gender, to learn and take whatever track they want to,” said Kelly.
When asked what contributed to this ranking, Fulfer explained that “a significant number of Centre’s STEM faculty are particularly intentional about being inclusive to all students in the classroom and helping all students to feel capable of seeing themselves in that particular field. This is something the chemists talk about often.
“Also, this past academic year, there was an active faculty learning circle devoted to creating inclusive STEM classrooms,” she continued. “I think increasing the number of STEM faculty engaging in these conversations would help to grow the success of women in STEM at Centre even more.”
Katie Barnes ’21, a dramatic arts and chemistry double major, expressed that the efforts the faculty made to create a more inclusive environment were felt by the students.
“From my personal experience with the chemistry department, I can say the faculty contributes heavily to the ranking of Centre College for Women in STEM.” she said. “The majority of the chemistry faculty are women—seven women and four men. Seeing this, one feels encouraged, because they hold up a sort of mirror for female students. Students can see themselves in these strong, intelligent women, and it builds up their confidence.
“Some of these professors have shared their own stories of hardship and build up each of their students to make them feel that they can take on the world,” she added.
For Fulfer, being a woman in STEM “is having access to participate in all of the challenges and joys of STEM research, having a voice to contribute new knowledge or solutions, and having the respect of being heard.”
This is something Kelly treasures about her college experience.
“I don’t feel as if my opportunities were limited within this field. Centre creates a platform where opportunities in STEM are always available, whether that be through research, study abroad or as teaching assistants,” she explained. “As long as the student is willing to put in the work—lots of work—they can be successful in the STEM program.”
by Ainsley Wooldridge ’21
July 15, 2020