Improving Systems, Encouraging Dreams

Forum on Opportunities and Challenges for Women in Science and Engineering

  • What major challenges have you confronted in your professional life?
  • Has being a woman been an advantage or created opportunities?
  • Has the situation in your profession changed for women?
  • What changes are needed?
  • What should secondary schools and colleges or universities be doing to increase the number of women in science and technology and to better prepare them?

These questions and more were asked of the prominent New Mexico women in academia, national security, and private industry who participated in "A Forum on Opportunities and Challenges for Women in Science and Engineering," sponsored by UNM's Feminist Research Institute and the Office for Policy, Security and Technology, held at UNM on March 29, 2006.

Guest speakers and moderators from UNM, New Mexico Tech, Eclipse Aviation, Intel, Air Force Research Laboratory, Los Alamos National Laboratory, and Sandia National Laboratories were on three panels that addressed issues for women in academia, national security, and private industry. There were common themes that emerged from the panels, said Dr. Anita Obermeier, director of the Feminist Research Institute. "These included the challenges of balancing family and children with a career, trying to assert oneself in a predominantly male world, and gender stereotypes."

Throughout the event, women were encouraged to pursue their dreams in science and engineering. At the same time, emphasis was placed on the need for systemic change. "Several women told of persevering through years of negative comments, isolation, and feeling invisible - and then rising to prominence and prestige in their careers," said Obermeier.

The keynote address was given by Dr. Jane Zimmer-Daniels, director of the Clare Boothe Luce Program for Women in the Sciences, Mathematics, and Engineering at the Henry Luce Foundation. She shared personal stories, discussed issues raised by women in science and engineering, and highlighted strategies and policies for recruitment and retention.

"Diversity in engineering, particularly gender diversity, is vital to achieving the best technological solutions that truly improve people's lives," said Joseph Cecchi, Dean of the School of Engineering. "This forum provided an important opportunity to explore ways to progress on this critical front."

Fifty to seventy-five people attended each of the events throughout the day. Approximately one-third were men. Cecchi encouraged male faculty, especially department chairs, to attend the forum to raise their sensitivity to the issues faced by women in engineering.

"It was a privilege to be in a room with that many high-powered women scientists and engineers from diverse backgrounds," commented Obermeier. "They were all testimony to their own outstanding intellect and perseverance. I was also incredibly heartened at the support Dean Cecchi gave this forum."