Grant to make STEM education more accessible to students with disabilities
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FARMINGTON — The University of Maine at Farmington has received a National Science Foundation grant of $96,377 to engage rural students with disabilities in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) learning through accessible makerspaces.

The innovative UMF incubator makerspace, Maine-Makerspaces for Abilities Driving Entrepreneurship (ME-MADE), is in the Mantor Library Learning Commons. It is available to the university community, with plans to be open to members of the public of all abilities and disabilities.

                                                               (Photo credit – Courtesy UMF)

A makerspace is an area that contains materials and tools for people to work together to learn, collaborate, create and share. They provide hands-on, creative ways to encourage students to design, experiment, build and invent as they engage in STEM.

Over a 16-month period of the NSF planning grant, UMF and its partners, the Maine Mathematics and Science Alliance and the Mt. Blue Middle School, will focus on creating a shared vision that will be supported by a range of activities, including, outreach to grades kindergarten to 12 schools throughout the state.

The NSF grant will build on the progress of a three-year, $300,000 grant received from the University of Maine System’s Maine Economic Improvement Fund in spring 2020. The MEIF is the state’s investment in University of Maine System research and development that benefits the people of Maine. The UMF project was recognized as having the potential to provide a positive economic impact for Maine by fostering entrepreneurship in the region.

Read the full article at Sun Journal.

20 worthwhile conferences for women in tech
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women in tech graphics

Diversity is a hot topic in the tech industry — and because it’s discussed frequently, it might be easy to feel like things have already changed. But according to a recent Women in Technology report from IDC, only 42% of women feel their employer offered equal pay, compared to 75% of men who feel the same.

Additionally, 56% of women feel that women are underrepresented in STEM fields in their organization compared to 26% of men. Women also feel that their workplace is more geared towards men (45%), that there is a lack of support for women in STEM (33%) and

                                                                                                                 (Image Credit – CIO)

that taking time off for family will impact their career opportunities (35%).

Whether you already have a strong network of women colleagues in your industry or if you’re looking to expand your community, there are a number of conferences designed for women in STEM fields. And most of these aren’t just for women — they’re open to allies and anyone who supports diversity and inclusion in the workplace.

Here are 20 tech conferences that aim to connect women and other underrepresented groups in technology to build a more diverse community in the tech industry.

Black Women Tech Talk

The Black Women Tech Talk conference is dedicated to founders and offers “self-enriching sessions, networking and one-of-a-kind experiences.” The three-day event includes keynote speakers, sessions on how to practice self-care as a founder, how to balance your personal life and career, and other workshops specific to being a female founder. The retreat also includes less traditional sessions and perks such as free hair and makeup appointments, group yoga sessions, and other networking and social events that give attendees a chance to mingle.

Global Women in Tech Awards

The Women in IT Awards & Summit is a one-day event covering topics such as blockchain, AI and machine learning — there is also an awards gala at the end of the conference. Award categories include CIO of the Year; Advocate of the Year; Entrepreneur of the Year; Future CIO of the Year; Business Role Model of the Year; CTO of the Year; Rising Star; and Diversity Initiative of the Year. The NYC and Silicon Valley conferences were held virtually in 2020 — dates and location for 2021 haven’t been announced yet.

Grace Hopper Celebration

The Grace Hopper Celebration was co-founded by Dr. Anita Borg and Dr. Telle Whitney in 1994 and is now the world’s “largest gathering of women technologists,” according to the event website. The conference is named after Admirable Grace Murray Hopper, who is considered the one of the first computer programmers — her work is directly responsible for the development of COBOL.

Read the original article and learn more about tech conferences for women at CIO.
Farmworker turned astronaut Jose Hernandez urges kids not to give up
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Astronaut Jose Hernandez in spacesuit smiling holding his space suit helmet

Former NASA astronaut Jose Hernandez spent most of his youth working the fields.

So many kids have struggled with remote learning, but Hernandez wants them all to know when it comes to their future, the sky’s the limit.

As a young boy, Hernandez picked fruits and vegetables alongside his family.

“We spent nine months in California, three months in Mexico, but those nine months I went to three different school districts,” he explained.

The family settled in Stockton. Jose couldn’t speak English until he was 12 years old, but STEM subjects spoke to him.

“I gravitated towards math because 1 + 3 is 4 in any language,” Hernandez said.

When he was ten, Jose told his dad he wanted to be an astronaut, so his father laid out a five-part recipe for success.

First, set a goal. Then recognize how far away you are from that goal.

“The third thing is you have to draw yourself a road map to know where you’re at to where you want to go,” Hernandez added. “And then I asked what’s the fourth? He said you’ve got to get an education.”

The University of the Pacific grad called hard work the fifth ingredient.

But his path was a difficult one.

“NASA rejected me not once, not twice, not three times but 11 times. It wasn’t until the 12th time that I got selected,” he said.

Hernandez would blast off with the crew of the Space Shuttle Discovery in 2009.

“It’s a ride that even Disneyland would be envious of because you go from zero to 17,500 miles an hour in eight and a half minutes,” he recalled.

Jose worked on the International Space Station during the 14-day trip, which covered 5.4 million miles.

“I wish we had a frequent flyer program,” Hernandez laughed.

He circled the globe 217 times but remains a down to Earth guy who tells kids how to realize their own dreams.

“Hard work and perseverance and not being afraid to dream big,” he said.

Continue on to the NBC 7 to read the complete article.

Cultural Brokers Build Bridges for African American Women in STEM
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by Danielle Ferguson, Ed.D., Researcher, American Institute for Research (AIR)

Dr. Danielle Ferguson, now a researcher at the American Institutes for Research (AIR), focused her dissertation on African American Women in STEM: Uncovering stories of persistence and resilience through an examination of social and cultural capital.

In this article, Dr. Ferguson shares some of what she learned from her research.  

There have been many calls from researchers to increase the diversity of the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) field (Archer et al., 2015; McGee & Bentley, 2017), especially including the participation of more African American women. The lack of representation of African American women and other people from diverse backgrounds could be viewed through multiple lenses but diversity could only improve the global competitiveness of the United States. Furthermore, STEM careers provide economic benefits for individuals because they are amongst the fastest growing career path and provide higher salaries than other careers (Pew Research Center, 2018). 

Many teachers, professors, researchers, and others have answered this call to action by creating programs at the institutional level to increase the interest, participation, and retention of African American women in the STEM field, such as the Defense STEM Education Consortium program at Morgan State University. But what happens to African American women after they enter STEM careers? According to the eight successful African American women with a terminal degree in the STEM field, who were interviewed as part of Dr. Ferguson’s research, their experiences in their STEM careers are not what they expected. They feel undervalued, face both sexism and racism, and lack the guidance and support that they need to advance in the field. 

In order for African American women to be successful once they enter the STEM field, they need guidance and support. Glen Aikenhead (2001) argued that learning science is a cross-cultural event for non-white students, therefore success in the field requires a cultural broker. A cultural broker is someone who relates to an individual’s culture and the culture of science and can help individuals build a bridge between the two cultures. Cultural brokers offer individuals, including African American women, strategies for success in their field by providing them with specific feedback for how to advance in their field, introducing them to key people, and helping them navigate cultural borders by showing them how to leverage their cultural capital in the STEM fields. They encourage African Americans to bring their full selves to their careers while also assisting them in being successful in STEM. 

Cultural brokers spend time building relationships with African American women. They offer them authentic opportunities for professional growth. For example, instead of only suggesting that these women attend professional conferences, cultural brokers provide them opportunities to participate in projects that they can present at conferences. Additionally, cultural brokers help African American women understand the importance of attending professional conferences is networking with prominent researchers in the STEM fields and assist them in making important connections with these individuals. Cultural brokers assist African American women in getting articles published in peer-reviewed journals by modeling the process and connecting them with others with whom they can collaborate, since publications help individuals build prominence in STEM fields. Cultural brokers listen to African American women. They do not downplay the hardships that they face but work with them to find solutions to overcome the barriers. Furthermore, they advocate with and for African American women. In summary, the role of a cultural broker is to go beyond providing African American women with information but to assist these women in building bridges between their experiences and perspectives and the experiences that are valuable in STEM fields.

If we truly believe that increasing the diversity of STEM fields is beneficial to individuals and our nation, we cannot continue to encourage African American women to pursue STEM careers then leave them scrambling for opportunities once they arrive. We cannot continue to provide mentorship that requires these women to detach from their identities and culture. We have to become cultural brokers for these women to help them bridge the gap between their culture and the culture of science by providing genuine opportunities, support, and listening to these women. Trial by fire can no longer be a rite of passage in STEM, especially for African American women. 

References: 

Aikenhead, G. S. (2001). Integrating western and aboriginal sciences. Cross-cultural Science Teaching, 31, 337-355. 

Archer, L., DeWitt, J., Osborne, J., Dillion, J., Willis, B., & Wong, B. (2013). ‘Not girly, not sexy, not glamorous’: Primary school girls’ and parents’ constructions of science aspirations. Pedagogy, Culture & Society 21(1), 171-194. https://doi.org/10.1080/14681366.2012.748676

Ferguson, D.S. (2016). African American women in STEM: Uncovering stories of persistence and resilience through an examination of social and cultural capital (Accession No. 10158857). [Doctoral dissertation, Morgan State University, Baltimore]. ProQuest Dissertations Publishing.  

McGee, E. O., & Bentley, L. (2017). The troubled success of Black women in STEM, Cognition and Instruction, 35(4), 265-289.  http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/07370008.2017.1355211

Pew Research Center. (2018). “Women and Men in STEM Often at Odds Over Workplace Equity.” Retrieved from https://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2018/01/09/women-and-men-in-stem-often-at-odds-over-workplace-equity/

Dream Flight
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NASA astronaut Jeanette Epps trains in a spacesuit within a mock International Space Station model at NASA's Johnson Space Center

Astronaut Jeanette Epps will make history as the first black woman to live and work with a crew in space.

By Monica Luhar 

It was always her dream to one day go up in space.

Little did astronaut Jeanette Jo Epps know she’d be making history while doing it.

In August, NASA named Epps, who turned 50 on November 3, to NASA’s Boeing Starliner-1 mission, which marks the first operational crewed flight of Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft to the International Space Station (ISS).

The mission, expected to launch in 2021, will mark Epps’ first space expedition while also making her the first African-American female astronaut to live and work onboard the ISS in a crewed flight for a six-month duration.

“I think many people dream of becoming an astronaut, most, however, never pursue it. My life has been geared toward it indirectly with the hope of becoming a viable candidate. However, it wasn’t until Spring ’08 that, because of the encouragement of a close friend, I realized that I would be a viable candidate and that I should apply,” Epps said in a NASA interview.

Epps will be joining NASA astronauts Sunita Williams and Josh Cassada on a six-month long mission to the ISS. The flight will follow strict protocol and NASA certification after a successful uncrewed Orbital Flight Test-2 and Crew Flight Test with astronauts.

Shortly after the flight announcement, Epps tweeted out her excitement for joining the expedition with her NASA colleagues:

Epps, right, spoke about her time in space at a STEM day session with students at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington. Photo credit: (NASA/Aubrey Gemignani)

“I’m super excited to join Sunita Williams and Josh Cassada on the first operational Boeing crew mission to the International Space Station. I’ve flown in helicopters with Sunita flying and I’ve flown in the backseat of a T-38 with Josh flying, and they are both wonderful people to work with. So, I’m looking forward to the mission,” she tweeted.

Former NASA astronaut Mae Carol Jemison became the first black woman to travel in space after being selected to NASA’s astronaut program in June 1987. She was followed by astronaut Stephanie Wilson, while Joan Higginbotham was the third black woman to venture into space.

While this will be Epps’ first space expedition, it is not her first mission. In 2017, NASA assigned Epps to be a flight engineer to the International Space Station in mid-2018 for Expeditions 56 and 57.

She would have become the first African-American space station crew member, the first African American to launch aboard the Russian Soyuz vehicle, and the 15th African American to fly in space. But in January 2018, NASA ended up backtracking on its decision for reasons unknown.

But now Epps is back in action and is slated to make history through her first spaceflight to the International Space Station.

The Path to Space

The inspiration for a career in space exploration was embedded in Epps as a child. She was born in Syracuse, New York, as one of seven children to Henry and Luberta (née Jackson) Epps, Mississippians who moved to Syracuse as part of the Great Migration.

She and her twin sister, Janet, both excelled in math and science, and when Epps was 9-years-old, it was her brother who inspired her to pursue a career in space.

“My older brother came home from school at Rochester Institute of Technology when I was 9 and he took a look at my sister’s and my grades. He said, ‘Wow, you guys are doing great. You can be anything you want to be, an astronaut, whatever,’” she told a group of students, as reported by The Star Telegram.

But the journey to getting there wasn’t always a linear path; Epps dabbled in several different careers before becoming an astronaut for NASA.

Official Astronaut portrait of Jeanette Epps
Photographer: Robert Markowitz

She previously worked for Ford Motor Company, where she was responsible for research surrounding automobile collision detection and other systems that led to the success of a provisional patent and a U.S. Patent for her research. She also worked at the Central Intelligence Agency for seven years as a Technical Intelligence Officer before becoming an astronaut with NASA and working in the ISS Operations Branch to troubleshoot issues to support space station crews.

She received her Bachelor of Science in Physics at LeMoyne College, and her Master of Science and Doctorate of Philosophy in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Maryland.

In 2008, Epps had a conversation with a friend who encouraged her to apply to the Astronaut Corps. In an interview with Parentology, Epps said, “I never thought that they’d actually select me, but they did.”

In 2009, Epps was selected as one of 9 members of the 20th NASA astronaut class.

“I was truly shocked because of the caliber of people I met during the interview process,” she said upon hearing that she was chosen. “I met some of the most amazing inspirational people. It is a huge honor to have been selected!

During her graduate school career, Epps served as a NASA fellow and wrote many journal and conference articles discussing her research.

“Her graduate research involved extensive testing of composite swept‐tip beams, comparative analysis of analytical models and experimental data for shape memory alloys and the application of shape memory alloy actuators for tracking helicopter rotor blades,” according to NASA.

Inspiring Future Astronauts

United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket, topped by a Boeing CST-100 Starliner spacecraft lifts off
The United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket, topped by a Boeing CST-100 Starliner spacecraft, lifts off from Space Launch Complex in Cape Canaveral, Florida. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Epps knows all too well the importance of encouraging students who are interested in STEM and other career avenues to follow their dreams, no matter the hurdles.

She was recently invited to speak to youth at Weatherford High School about her experience as an astronaut and her excitement about the upcoming NASA’s Artemis program, which aims to send the first woman on the moon by 2024.

Epps told students about the training she received at NASA, as well as her previous career path. She also shared her excitement as one of 13 female astronaut candidates that could be the first woman to land on the moon.

“You never know, as long as you’re in the program. That would be fantastic…It would be otherworldly,” Epps told students, as reported by The Star Telegram.

She explained that a historic trip to the moon could help uncover more answers about the Earth and the solar system. “It can be a way point to getting to Mars. We can stop there and we refuel and go on to Mars,” Epps told Business Insider in an interview.

When she’s not researching or thinking about space, Epps’s earthly hobbies include scuba diving and reading. “Other hobbies that I have, when I am not working, include traveling, reading, and trying as many new things as I can!”

NASA has had many interesting developments and upcoming projects like Asthros and Euclid, and others underway. For astronauts currently in space, many were able to safely cast their vote from the ISS in time for the 2020 presidential election. Astronaut Kate Rubins tweeted, “From the International Space Station: I voted today — Kate Rubins.”

Epps, center, answers a question along side of NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, left, and NASA astronaut Doug Wheelock, right, during an interactive STEM discussion with students at NASA Headquarters in Washington. Photo Credit: (NASA/Joel Kowsky)

In 2016, the film, Hidden Figures, based on the book by Margot Lee Shetterly, shed light on the importance of STEAM as well as workplace discrimination, segregation, and other barriers that faced African-American female mathematicians and engineers. Many African Americans in STEM played an important role in the space program at NASA and helped shape the future of space exploration.

Representation and diverse leadership in STEM are key. The UPS recently posted a report discussing the need for more black women in STEM leadership: “Without a stronger commitment globally to diversity and inclusion in STEM, companies will continue to miss out on—or lose—talent that could bolster their business performance, and ultimately, their bottom lines.”

According to Catalyst, in 2017, 11.5 percent of science and engineering employees in the US were women of color. Currently, only 17 African-American astronauts represent NASA.

While women of color have been historically underrepresented in STEM, Epps is committed to moving the needle.

“The NASA mission has always inspired me because I have a great desire to help further our understanding of the world we live in and the universe,” she said in a NASA interview. “I pursued a career in science and technology in an effort to contribute. I also have a desire to encourage young students to pursue careers in science and help contribute because I believe everyone can help and has a part to play!”

With Epps sets to make history on the International Space Station in 2021, as well as potentially becoming the first woman to set foot on the moon, the sky’s the limit for African-American innovations in STEM from earth and beyond.

 

The Cyberwar Needs More Women on the Front Lines
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CYBERCRIMINALS, LIKE VIRUSES, adapt to their environment. Since the coronavirus pandemic began, cybersecurity complaints to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center have quadrupled.

Not only are governments and businesses more exposed, but individuals—stressed from remote work, unemployment, and/or homeschooling—are more susceptible to scams on everything from government assistance checks to online shopping. I’ve been deluged with emails purportedly from Netflix asking me to update my billing information; the sender clearly thinks cabin fever-infected recipients will be so desperate not to lose access to streaming they’ll click without a second thought.

The surge is no accident: Bad actors go where access is easy or where rewards outweigh risks, and the pandemic is ripe for exploitation. But cybercrime was with us long before and it will be with us long after we finally throw away our masks. This is particularly true of cybercrime targeting women and children.

This brings us back to access. Let’s look at the internet of things, for instance. It was developed largely without the input of women in leadership positions. Among the major US tech firms, none have more than 32 percent of women in leadership roles: Amazon 27 percent, Facebook 32 percent, Apple 29 percent, Google 26 percent, and Microsoft 19 percent.

Read the full article at Wired.

 

Harvard University Chemist Receives the Nation’s Highest Honor
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Emily John Waterman headshot smiling

Meet a chemist who is zooming in on microbes in the human body to understand their influence on human lives. Emily Balskus, a Harvard University chemist, has earned the nation’s highest honor for her early career in STEM.

The annual award recognizes researchers age 40 or younger who demonstrate exceptional individual achievements in scientific or engineering research in National Science Foundation-supported fields.

“This year’s scientific pioneer are innovators who are creatively addressing some of the most challenging scientific questions,” said NSF Director Sethuraman Panchanathan. “Emily Balskus has opened up novel ways to explore and exploit the chemistry and biology of microbes that live in our bodies and how they are linked to our health. And we’re already seeing the potential impact.

Tapping Our Own Microbiome’s ‘Chemists’

Throughout Balskus’ scientific career, she has worked on scientific problems that excite her most, which began with developing new chemical reactions in the lab as an organic chemistry graduate student to now uncovering new enzymes and molecules from biological systems. “I’m very interested in biological questions, but I always approach these problems with the eyes of a chemist, trying to think very deeply about reactivity and structure,” she explained.

Balskus is most known for integrating chemistry and microbiology to understand how microbes from the gut are linked to human health and disease.

“My work has focused on how microbes perform chemistry – what are the specific catalysts, or enzymes they use to perform chemical transformations linked to health and disease?” she explained.

Balskus and her team have found novel, creative ways to “peek inside” the genome sequences who exist in our gastrointestinal tract to discover chemical reactions and molecules that are implicated in diseases like colon cancer, inflammatory bowel disease and diabetes. Her breakthroughs have transformed how other scientists approach this important line of research that has potential important applications in medicine.

“Through receiving this award, I hope I can bring greater attention to microbes and the important roles they play in all aspects of our lives and to how chemistry can help us understand the microbial world as well as our own,” Balskus said. “I also hope that my work highlights the promise of interdisciplinary science and encourages other scientists, especially trainees, to be curious and open to exploring areas of science outside their comfort zones.”

Balskus received her PhD in chemistry and chemical biology from Harvard in 2008.

The Waterman Award will be presented at a ceremony in Washington, D.C., at a later date. In addition to a medal, $1 million will be awarded over five years for research in her chosen field of science.

Source: nsf.gov

Image Credit: Harvard University

Africa Braces for the Fourth Industrial Revolution
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Technological advancements promise to change the world, but the African continent is not yet ready for it, say experts.

Countries in Africa are seeing economic progress and regional integration that could support the spread of transformational technologies such as artificial intelligence or the internet of things. Yet a deep lack in digital skills, coherent leadership, and basic infrastructure could make the continent miss out on a major industrial revolution – this time with dire consequences, experts warn.

                                                                                                                              Image Credit – Tech Central

The Fourth Industrial Revolution is characterized by a fusion of the digital, biological, and physical worlds, where artificial intelligence, cloud computing, robotics, 3D printing, the “internet of things,” and advanced wireless technologies see increased development worldwide. This revolution promises to bring about transformative changes that Africa cannot afford to miss, say experts from the Brookings Institution in a new report.

“Failure to recognize and capitalize on Fourth Industrial Revolution opportunities, conversely, will impose considerable risks on African stakeholders,” warns Brookings. “Without attempts to move beyond existing models of innovation, entrepreneurship, and digital growth on the continent, African businesses risk falling further behind, exacerbating the global ‘digital divide’ and lowering their global competitiveness.”

Read the full article on the US News

Inspiring the Next Generation of Hispanics in STEM
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Kenneth Armijo stands in front of a large power station

By Dr. Ken Armijo, systems engineer, Sandia National Laboratories

As a second-generation Hispanic growing up on a rural New Mexico farm, I was inspired by my parents and mentors to seek a college education. They understood the importance of education and the positive impact this would have on our culture and future agriculture in the community. Studies from the Pew Foundation have shown that second-generation Hispanics have higher attainment of college degrees by 36 percent, versus 29 percent for their first-generation parents, due in part to increased encouragement from their parents and access to educational resources throughout their entire education.

During my upbringing, I became acutely aware of the challenges and hardships that my relatives, friends and migrant workers (with whom I worked while at the University of California, Berkeley, conducting SEGURO research in California’s Central Valley) had to face when trying to attain the American dream in the United States.

As a result, my focus became clear: I needed an education to help inspire and mentor other Hispanic students as my parents did for me.

When I received my doctorate in mechanical engineering from the University of California, Berkeley, I was elated. However, at the same time, I was disappointed by the very low percentage of science and engineering doctorates that were awarded to Hispanics and other minorities from top 10 universities that year. This elucidation encouraged me, at the end of my UC Berkeley program, to make changes that were direly needed to promote diversity. I began facilitating STEM outreach programs to students in middle and high schools with high minority

enrollment. This experience had positive outcomes, enabling me to bring these educational programs to New Mexico when I started my tenure at Sandia.

Commitment to ‘Noche de Ciencias’

My colleagues and I at Sandia and other institutions (Intel, General Mills and the University of New Mexico) have created “Noche de Ciencias” (Science Nights) events for K-12th-grade students and their parents, to teach them about the value of getting an education, particularly a college degree in a STEM field. Many of these events have also brought together middle and high school students to interact with Hispanic engineering college students from UNM, Central New Mexico Community College and the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology. These events provide students with activities to encourage and excite their interest in STEM. At the same time, we conduct bilingual workshops for parents, emphasizing the value of college education for their children and how to receive financial assistance so that they can graduate with college STEM or vocational degrees.

Sandia for years has promoted diversity and STEM outreach. The resources provided by Sandia’s community involvement program have truly made a remarkable impact, ensuring that all populations, including Hispanics, women and other minorities from pre-K to doctorate, will receive the same opportunities in obtaining STEM degrees here in New Mexico.

Our consortium of industry and academic partners has also facilitated other STEM programs, giving students more opportunities than their families previously had. The group also sponsors activities that connect the sciences to students’ Hispanic heritage in unique ways.

Overall, it is vitally important that these efforts continue. They not only help to enrich our cultural heritage, but they also enhance the quality of our scientific community.

Dr. Kenneth Armijo is a systems engineering staff member who leads molten salt and molten alkali metals research and development at Sandia National Laboratories National Solar Thermal Test Facility (NSTTF). He holds a PhD in Mechanical Engineering from the University of California, Berkeley, with minors in Energy and Resources, and business credentials in Management of Technology from Berkeley’s Haas School of Business.

Photo Caption: Ken Armijo at Sandia’s National Solar Thermal Test Facility.

Photo Credit: UNM Alumni Association

Meet Three Female STEM Leaders Disrupting The Food & Beverage Industry
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three women STEM leaders pictured in collage portrait

The number of female executives in the food and beverage industry is shockingly low, especially when compared to other industries. Only 16 percent of executives in food and beverage manufacturing are female, as opposed to 21 percent across all industries.

SōRSE Technology–the leading cannabis and CBD emulsion supplier for CPGs and other food, beverage, and topical manufacturers–has bucked this unfortunate trend with a strong female leadership presence.

Three of these powerful and innovative female STEM leaders who are disrupting the food and beverage industry are:

Donna Wamsley, pictured bottom, Director of Research and Analytics and expert flavorist. Ever wonder who designs food and drink flavors to hit those taste cells in just the right way? None other than one of only a few hundred flavorists in the world. Donna brings over 12 years of experience in the food and beverage industry. She can discuss what it’s like being one of the world’s few hundred flavorists, the qualities she looks for when analyzing ingredients, and 2020’s most popular flavor trends.

Michelle Sundquist, pictured right, Director of Innovation Product Design. At SōRSE, Michelle uses cutting-edge ingredient emulsification to develop products never thought possible. With over 20 years of expertise in the psychology behind food and beverage marketing, Michelle can give an in-depth look at launching high-quality foods and beverages, along with the techniques that bars, restaurants, and stores can use to make their drinks stand out in a crowded market.

Maribeth O’Connor, pictured left, VP of Medical Application, Business and Product Development. Maribeth brings over 30 years of experience to SōRSE and has experience working in business development and marketing for the University of Washington School of Medicine. She has also worked as a federal healthcare lobbyist for Group Health Cooperative. Maribeth is currently working in partnership with Pascal Biosciences and UW Sports Medicine in conducting research studies to validate proven cannabinoid therapies in cancer and osteoarthritis. She is also pursuing other research opportunities around the globe.

Donna, Michelle, and Maribeth are three of the amazing and hardworking women in their industry. They draw on their unique skillsets and experience from their colleagues at SōRSE and are breaking new ground in a nascent industry. They have, and continue to, contribute immensely to making the cannabis and CBD industry the success story that it is today and in the future. Finally, they are an inspiration to the women that will continue to populate the executive ranks.

To Build Less-Biased AI, Hire a More-Diverse Team
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A group of diverse engineers huddled around a project

By Michael Li

We’ve seen no shortage of scandals when it comes to AI. In 2016, Microsoft Tay, an AI bot built to learn in real time from social media content turned into a misogynist, racist troll within 24 hours of launch. 

A ProPublica report claimed that an algorithm — built by a private contractor — was more likely to rate black parole candidates as higher risk. A landmark U.S. government study reported that more than 200 facial recognition algorithms — comprising a majority in the industry — had a harder time distinguishing non-white faces. The bias in our human-built AI likely owes something to the lack of diversity in the humans who built them. After all, if none of the researchers building facial recognition systems are people of color, ensuring that non-white faces are properly distinguished may be a far lower priority.

Sources of Discrimination in the AI and Technology Fields

Technology has a remarkably non-diverse workforce. A 2019 study found that under 5.7% of Google employees were Latinx, and 3.3% were Black. Similarly low rates exist across the tech industry. And those numbers are hardly better outside the tech industry, with Latinx and Black employees making up just 7% and 9%, respectively, of STEM workers in the general economy. (They comprise 18.5% and 13.4%, respectively, of the U.S. population.) Data science is a special standout — by one estimate, it underrepresents women, Hispanics, and Blacks more than any other role in the tech industry. It may come as no surprise that a 2019 study by the non-profit Female Founders Faster Forward (F4) found that 95% of surveyed candidates reported facing discrimination in the workplace. With such a biased workforce, how can we expect our AI to fare any better?

Sources of bias in hiring abound. Some of this comes from AI. Amazon famously had to scrap its AI recruiting bot when the company discovered it was biased against women. And it’s not just tech titans: LinkedIn’s 2018 Global Recruiting Trends survey found that 64% of employers use AI and data in recruiting, including top employers like Target, Hilton, Cisco, PepsiCo, and Ikea. But we cannot entirely blame AI —­ there is a much deeper and more systemic source of hiring bias. An established field of academic research suggests that human resume screening is inherently biased. Using innovative field experiments, university researchers have shown that resume screeners discriminate on the basis of race, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, and age. Discrimination is so prevalent that minorities often actively whiten resumes (and are subsequently more successful in the job market). Scanning resumes, whether by computer or human, is an archaic practice best relegated to the dustbin of history. At best, it measures a candidate’s ability to tactfully boast about their accomplishments and, at worse, provides all the right ingredients for either intentional or unintentional discrimination. So how are companies overcoming this challenge?

A Musical Interlude

An unlikely parallel exists in — of all places — the field of classical music. In the 1970s and 1980s, historically male-dominated orchestras began changing their procedures for hiring. Auditions were conducted blind — placing a screen between the candidate and their judging committee so that the identity of the auditioner could not be discerned — only their music was being judged. The effects of this change were astounding: Harvard researchers found that women were passing 1.6 times more in blind auditions than in non-blind ones, and the number of female players in the orchestras increased by 20 to 30 percentage points. By focusing on the candidate’s performance (rather than irrelevant discriminatory attributes) companies can increase both diversity and quality of their new hires. Here’s how.

Continue on to Harvard Business Review to read the full article.

Air Force Civilian Service

Air Force Civilian Service