people sitting in small discussion groups
Jolene Sutton, assistant professor of biology, leads break out discussion with students at the Women in STEM conference. (Photo: Raiatea Arcuri, UH Hilo Stories)

The inaugural Women in STEM Conference was held at the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo on February 12. The all-day event brought together women leaders, scientists, students and members of the campus community to discuss the current state of affairs for women in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

Topics covered included social history of women in STEM, importance of mentorship, sexual harassment, wage gap, work-family-life balance, retaining women STEM students and creating a supportive climate for underrepresented minorities in STEM.

“We need to hire and retain more role models in STEM, especially those fields that are male-dominated like computer science, math, chemistry and physics,” said Marianne Takamiya, an astronomer at UH Hilo, during a panel discussion. “We need to let women know they are welcome and strive to reach equity like equal salaries, teaching loads and support in research. This is yet another chance for UH Hilo to be on the map, since we are already recognized for our diversity.”

The conference, organized by students, was the brainchild of Karen Gallardo Cruz and Ashley Pugh, both UH Hilo students in the tropical conservation biology and environmental science (TCBES) graduate program.

“This conference was entirely driven by students and staff—they had curiosity and ran with it to develop something larger and comprehensive,” says Rebecca Ostertag, professor of biology and chair of the TCBES program. “I’m impressed by how broadly they thought about the topics and backgrounds of the guest speakers and panelists, and how passionate and driven they were to share stories and knowledge with the entire campus community.”

The conference was sponsored by the UH Hilo Women’s Center, TCBES MATERS Club and the Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action.

Go to UH Hilo Stories for more and to see photos from the conference.

–Written by Leah Sherwood, a graduate student in the tropical conservation biology and environmental science program at UH Hilo.