Video from the @WPSProject Women in Public Service Project @UMassLowell June 2013: My “Sharing STEM” Opening Remarks

It was my pleasure to give the opening remarks for the “Sharing STEM” session at the Women in Public Service Project (WPSP) at the University of Massachusetts Lowell. Thank you to all of the speakers, and to our session co-chairs from UMass Lowell and San Francisco State University.


Renetta WPSP Video Shot


Partial Transcript of my opening comments from Session Three, June 4, 2013, 8:30 -10:45 a.m.         “Sharing STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math): Innovation, Entrepreneurship, and Community Engagement” – UMass Lowell:



 Good morning. It’s a pleasure to be with you this morning. I’m Renetta Tull, Associate Vice Provost for Graduate Student Development and Postdoctoral Affairs at UMBC, and I’m a former faculty member in Speech Science, with research in communications sciences and disorders and electrical engineering. Happy to be here. I met Paula Rayman in 2009 at a NASA Women in Astronomy conference in Maryland, re-connected in 2011/12 asked her to be a content expert National Science Foundation project: ADVANCE Hispanic Women in STEM, in Puerto Rico.  I also thank Victoria DeNoon for all of her coordination and leadership. It’s a pleasure to open this panel, and I want to acknowledge the co-organizers: Dr. Julie Chen (Vice Provost for Research at UMass Lowell and professor of Mechanical Engineering), Dr. Laura Mamo (Health Equity Professor of Health Education at San Francisco State University), and Maryann Ford from the Peach and Conflict Studies program at the University of Massachusetts at Lowell.



In this panel, we’re going to talk about STEM, science, technology, engineering and math remembering that social sciences are part of the “S” in STEM.

[Additional background included in the video here, provided from Session Co-chairs: Dr. Laura Mamo (San Francisco State), Dr. Julie Chen (UMass Lowell) from our group discussion of a description of “Sharing STEM.”]


We had two readings for this session. One was on informal professional networks which discussed different ways that men and women in STEM see their networks (e.g., men: collaborative, competitive; women: supportive – both as career-builders). In the other, Sue Rosser, Provost of San Francisco State University, one of the partners in this project, reports on women who receive STEM degrees in general in the US in her 2012 article on gender diversity in STEM for the Chronicle of Higher Education. She notes that in science and engineering (with emphasis on the inclusion of social sciences and psychology) we’re at parity at the bachelor’s degrees, but the number decreases at the M.S. level (45.5%), and again at the doctoral level (41.9%).


In the US, percentages in engineering and computer sciences are much lower, which is troublesome because she notes that these are “some of the fastest-growing sectors in our increasingly technological society. Underrepresentation is an issue. The Wilson Center, our parent organization, published an online article on May 6, 2013 by Edith Kirumba about underrepresentation in African. In the article on “African Women and Youth as Agents of Change through Technology and Innovation,” there is discussion about STI or Science, technology and Innovation, noting that women only comprise 29% of the researchers in science and technology in Africa. Thinking about innovation, the African Women’s Forum on Science and Technology, and the Women Innovation Challenge Program (WE CAN) is looking at big questions:


  • How to create sustainable systems for utilizing natural resources
  • How to manage biodiversity (forests for example)
  • How to obtain food security.


A few weeks later, May 19, 2013, National Geographic published an article on women who have been snubbed in science because of their gender. Among them was Dr. Jocelyn Bell Burnell, a Physicist, born in Northern Ireland in 1943. She was snubbed in 1974. Dr. Burnell discovered pulsars, which are remnants of massive stars that went supernova (they exploded in a brilliant burst of light.) She was left out of the winning the Nobel prize because for her area at the time, only senior men would receive the credit for such discoveries. Later, as Chair of the Working Group for the Royal Society of Edinburgh in the report “Tapping all our Talents: Women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics: A strategy for Scotland,” Dr.  Burnell said “In 1991, the number of female professors of physics in the UK doubled: it went from one to two! By 2009/2010, it had risen to 36 – clearly a huge improvement. But that is still 36 out of 650 professors in Physics.”


Curious about representation, I looked at some social science research and found a few studies about women in Computer Science in Afghanistan. One book on the topic by Eva Hoffman mentions that the IT industry provides women with an opportunity to participate actively in the process of rebuilding, and to strengthen their role in Afghan society.  Jandelyn Plane’s social science study on   “APPROACHING GENDER PARITY: WOMEN IN COMPUTER SCIENCE AT AFGHANISTAN’S KABUL UNIVERSITY” notes that representation of women in computer science is high at Kabul University, compared to much lower rates at universities in the US. Similarly, qualitative and quantitative social science studies on Women engineers in Turkey tell us that yes, women in Turkey are underrepresented in engineering, but they have higher percentages in this field than Western Europe and the US.


A year before she died, renowned computer scientist, Dr. Anita Borg, co-founded of the now famous Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing Conference (now heavily sponsored by Google), made the following statement:


 “People’s political, social, economic, and personal lives will be affected dramatically, and more than we now imagine, for in a global knowledge economy, those without knowledge, and access to technology will be left behind. Exactly which technologies are created, and what they are used for, depend on WHO has the ability to influence them.”


Now we know that women are getting degrees in STEM, we need to increase the numbers.  How can STEM or STI women use their knowledge for innovation and economic empowerment? This is the conversation that we’re going to have today.


This introduction was followed by talks by wonderful emerging women scientists from UMBC, and experienced professors from Middle East Technical University in Ankara, Turkey, and UMass Lowell.


Maria Nandadevi Cortes-Rodriguez, Biological Sciences, UMBC
Erika Nesvold, Physics, UMBC
Professor Yildiz Ecevit, Professorial Chair, Department Sociology & Head, Gender and Women Studies graduate programs at Middle East Technical University, Ankara
Professor Alkim Akyurtlu, Associate Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, UMass Lowell