In Colorado: Barriers/Solutions to Engaging Diverse #WomenInSTEM in Global Research – #ThinkBigDiversity #WEPAN2015

Today, I am in Colorado, where I worked with my colleagues from UMBC and PR to present the “Think Big” discussion on engaging diverse women in STEM in international research efforts, as part of the 2015 WEPAN (Women in Engineering ProActive Network) conference. Parts of the conversation are recorded on Twitter with the hashtag #ThinkBigDiversity, and there are also some blog posts on (The next #ThinkBigDiversity session will be held at the PROMISE AGEP SSI 2015, on August. 15, 2015).

WEPAN TintWall ThinkBigDiversity2

While ideas were captured online this morning (and more are coming in), there were other thoughts that were shared by the audience orally during the presentation, through different interactive methods.

In this post, I will repeat some of the questions, and share the answers, several of which may not have been captured online. My fellow presenters were Dr. Autumn Reed (Faculty Diversity Initiatives, STRIDE – UMBC Office of the Provost), Dr. Cristina Pomales (Industrial Engineering, University of Puerto Rico Mayagüez), Dr. Patti Ordóñez (Computer Science, University of Puerto Rico Río Piedras), and Dr. Beatriz Zayas (Toxicology, Universidad Metropolitana). During the presentation, Dr. Pomales presented a very thorough picture of female STEM faculty challenges, and some of the unique pulls between cultural expectations and career pursuits that she and other female faculty members have experienced. Her slide was titled “Challenges in Puerto Rico.” Dr. Zayas worked behind the scenes in Puerto Rico to inform the women who were involved with the Puerto Rico ADVANCE Workshops about this next phase in the discussion. Dr. Ordóñez, a computer scientist, is our hackathon expert. Dr. Reed led the charge by getting this topic on the table for WEPAN and developing the framework for the presentation. Dr. Reed specializes in inter-cultural communication.

WEPAN Banner2015

Understanding Underrepresentation in Engineering for Women Faculty

This topic of engaging women in global research is particularly pertinent to women from diverse ethnic groups who are members of the faculty in engineering and computer science, and who are U.S. citizens, because the numbers of associate and full professors from those categories is so small, that the numbers are in the low hundreds or suppressed. This is compared to thousands of men with these higher academic ranks in these disciplines. To be specific, based on data from the National Science Foundation (Table 9-25, 2013), there were 27,700 US citizen engineering professors in the U.S. Of those, 4,300 are female. How many were Black or Hispanic women? 400. The numbers of American Indian, Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander women were suppressed, too small to be reported in all categories. How many were at the associate professor or full professor level among all of the aforementioned who are from underrepresented ethinc groups? The numbers were suppressed … too small to be reported.

Promotion to full professor at several universities requires an established international reputation in your field of research. If the women are not engaging, they may not be developing those necessary collaborations, and may not have the qualifications that are being used to grant promotion to full professor. THIS IS A PROBLEM! 

Our approach begins with examining how we can get more women from underrpresented groups to engage in international research. We look at challenges and possible solutions. 


Questions and Answers from the WEPAN Change Leader Forum session in Colorado, June 11, 2015. Our topic: Think Big! Broadening Horizons for Women in Engineering and Computer Science through Global Scholar Networks; webpage: ____________________________________________________

Question 1: What are some barriers to international engagement for women of color?


  • Few role models
  • Lack of community
  • Being taken seriously regardless of age
  • Undue service burdens
  • Isolation
  • Lack of exposure


Question 2:  What are some solutions to the challenges? 

  • Deans should have conversations with chairs about getting women involved
  • Create networks for international engagement
  • Speak up at meetings
  • [Administration should] embrace family
  • [Alter culture so that] children are not barriers
  • Recommend service requirements that hve equal loads for all [so that women aren’t unduly burdened, and not able to expand horizons]
  • Standardize the number of times one can say “yes” to a service task, so that the limit is clear, and people are allowed to say “no.”
  • Have mentors
  • Take advantage of electronic communication methods [to increase networks]


Process Question: What data do you wish you had?


  • Stories about other diverse women and how they created their international networks. Many people don’t know where to start.
  • Information about where to start and who has the information to help. In some cultures, people have to be invited to participate or engage, so they are not going to necessarily venture out on their own to seek opportunities.
  • Knowledge of person or office that has information about all of the paperwork, e.g, visas, passports, university-based clearances
  • How to engage people in different positions of authority, people who can serve as liaisons to provide access to opportunities.


Culturally-framed Invitations

Dr. Cristina Pomales made the very important point that within some cultures, people (and women in particular) don’t engage or participate in various kinds of opportunities unless they are invited to do so. Her words were “You don’t go anywhere unless you’re invited.” I also spoke about my own experience and my first trip to South America. I went because I was invited to go. I told the story about how Dr. Maria Larrondo-Petrie of the Latin and Caribbean Consortium of Engineering Institutions (LACCEI) spoke to me after dinner one night at a Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers Conference (SHPE) in California. She told me about the conference which would be in Panama the next year, and said that I should come, and that I would be warmly welcomed. The next day, she came to me again, and put a flier about the conference in my hand, and again invited me to come, telling me why I would love it, and what she would do to help me. After that, one of my students, who was from Panama, also invited me to go. Further, he noted that he and his family would take care of all of my needs while I was there. Note that although this was an academic engineering conference, it was couched and framed in the context of family, hospitality, warmth, and welcome. Sure enough, when I went, my student’s mother took time off from work to spend time showing me around, the members of the conference welcomed me – literally with open arms (due to the culture), and thus, the process of international engagement began.

Elements of Cultural Capital

The way that the LACCEI conference was pitched to me had elements of cultural capital that we borrow from Critical Race Theory, and Latino Critical Race Theory (LatCrit). The invitation and the experience could be described as having elements of aspirational capital, linguistic capital, familial capital, social capital, and navigational capital. The following descriptions were co-developed by Dr. Angela Byars-Winston (University of Wisconsin-Madison), based on Yosso’s work.

1. The conference provided aspirational capital because I had an opportunity to maintain academic hopes and dreams for your future advancement.

2. There was linguistic capital because various forms of communication were valued.

3. Familial capital was in effect because there was incorporation of family and community.

4. There was social capital because I expanded my network.

5. The conference provided navigational capital because I learned new strategies that assisted with my career.

(Reference: Yosso, 2005)

Invitations to Engage

We discussed the international conference as an “alternative” or “counter-space” (Solórzano, Ceja, and Yosso, 2000), and we invited the audiences to attend and invite others to three distinct events where we know that they would be welcomed, advance, and thrive, thus capturing the various forms of cultural capital. They are as follows:

1) LACCEI in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, July 2015


2) The World Engineering Education Forum (WEEF), Florence, Italy, September 2015

WEEF Italy

3) SHILAC – A Symposium and Hackathon for Healthcare (all disciplines invited), San Juan, Puerto Rico, November 2015. SHILAC

Members from our presentation group will be at these conferences and have a role in particularly welcoming women in STEM. You are invited! We are doing exactly what one of our Twitter participants tweeted:

For more input on this topic, visit the Twitter hashtag for #ThinkBigDiversity, and contribute your own thought or solution. I also invite you to read my article in ASEE’s PRISM magazine on global exposure,, and for those of you who are attending the ASEE International Forum, I’ll see you there.

Let’s continue to work together for networking, for connections, and toward advancement.


With our moderator Sarah Jones from Louisiana Tech University, Cristina, and Patti on Skype, and Autumn – who led the charge.

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