students at sign in table
From left, graduate students Michael Stone, Erica Ta, Lisa Mason and Sarah Norbomb. (Photo credit: Raiatea Arcuri)

The second annual University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo Women in STEM Conference was held on March 5, bringing together leading scientists and educators in the science, technology and education sectors. The conference’s theme, “Educate to Empower: Uplifting All Women in STEM,” was prominent in the panel discussions and various workshops offered throughout the day.

“We wanted to create space this year to include the voices of underrepresented indigenous women in science in both academic and community-driven organizations,” said Lisa Mason, a graduate student in the tropical conservation biology and environmental science program and one of the conference’s organizers. “Next year we hope to have a multi-day event to further these important conversations. I am proud of so many people in our community for helping to support this event.”

Representation and research

The opening remarks were given by Marina Karides, chair of the sociology department at UH Hilo. Karides is also the principal investigator of an National Science Foundation ADVANCE grant, under which she leads an evaluation of gender equity in STEM across the UH System.

“Our data shows across the U.S. the representation of women especially at high-ranked research one departments can be 20-30 percent of faculty,” said Karides. “That’s the kind of culture and issue we are trying to address.”

The keynote address was delivered by Alexandra Colón Rodriguez, a postdoctoral researcher in the B3 (birds, brain and banter) Laboratory at the University of California, Davis.

In the panel discussion, “Redefining STEM: Diversifying Perspectives of Science/STEM on Hawaiʻi Island,” panelists discussed the intersection of gender, race, ethnicity and indigenous status when doing science. The panel consisted of Haunani Kane, a postdoctoral researcher in the multi-scale environmental graphical analysis (MEGA) Laboratory at UH Hilo, MEGA lab coral reef research technician Kailey Pascoe and assistant professor of anthropology Tarisi Vunidilo.

“[F]ind your community and the people who support you,” encouraged panelist Kane to the conference attendees. “A lot of times you are going to be a minority, whether it is because you are a woman or you are the only male. Find your people that will be there for you during your highs and your lows.”

The conference was sponsored by the Tropical Conservation Biology and Environmental Science graduate program MATERS Club, the LGBTQ+ Center, the Women’s Center and the Office of Equal Opportunity.

Read the full story at UH Hilo Stories.

—By Leah Sherwood, a graduate student in the tropical conservation biology and environmental science program at UH Hilo.

keynote speaker at conference
Neurotoxicologist Alexandra Colón-Rodriguez, keynote speaker at the 2020 Women in STEM Conference. (Photo credit: Raiatea Arcuri)