The why, what and how: Dr. Kimberly A. Scott ’91 spoke on creating initiatives with underrepresented women in STEM


Sunnie Ning ‘18 News Editor

On Thursday April 6, Dr. Kimberly A. Scott ’91, an associate professor of Women and Gender Studies at Arizona State University and Executive Director of the Center for Gender Equity in Science and Technology, gave a talk on “Creating Initiatives with Underrepresented Women in STEM (Science, Technology Engineering and Math).”

Trained as a sociologist of education and childhood, Scott conducts interdisciplinary work examining the social and academic development of girls of color in informal spaces, and their successes in STEM fields. In 2014, Scott was named a White House Champion of Change for STEM Access and was appointed by President Obama to lead the National STEM Collaborative. The same year, the publication “Diverse Issues in Higher Education” identified Kimberly as one of the top 30 women in higher education.

The Science Center Committee on Diversity hosted the event. The SCCD is a group of faculty, staff and students that initiates and promotes programming to increase diversity and promote education on issues of diversity and social justice in the sciences, technology, mathematics and engineering at Smith.

Before the lecture, Scott also had lunch with student representatives and met with SCCD members. Afterwards, a curious audience of half students and half faculty members, filling the lecture hall in Ford, greeted the Smith alumna.

In the lecture, Scott discussed the importance of women of color in STEM fields in three aspects, “the limitations of the why, the inadequacy of the what and the potential of the how.” Starting with the limitations of the why, Scott explained that we only question why an issue is occurring when we sense something is wrong. The question why is often used “to describe a situation that is the norm or [to] question if something is the truth,” explained Scott. She also said that existing research usually focuses on the representation of all women in STEM field leaving out the different experience of diverse communities of women, especially women of color.

Scott then explained the “what” of the problem. She emphasized that the underrepresentation of women of color in STEM has not just individual but structural roots. Women of color, despite having more interest and curiosity in STEM fields compared to their white counterparts at a young age, often do not have systems of support or do not have access to these systems. Even when STEM outreach programs approach these underrepresented communities, they often lack an emphasis on developing computational thinking skills and leadership skills, which means they are not getting the training needed for leadership positions.

The “how” part of the problem addresses strategies to solving this underrepresentation. Scott highlighted the need to include majority allies. “Women and minorities are penalized for promoting diversity,” noted Scott. “This is one answer to the how: we must do this work collaboratively, because as this indicates, it can’t be women and women of color exclusively doing the work.” Scott said the first step towards doing this is to have the space where individuals from the majority culture and individuals from the minority culture meet and talk without disempowerment.

After the talk, Scott took questions from the audience. Michael Barresi, associate professor of the Biology Department, asked what could be improved at Smith. Scott responded that documenting and measuring the impact of changes happening on campus throughout time is important. She also encouraged Smith students to initiate conversations with people outside the Smith community, saying, “I’d like to see that expanded, not only at Smith, but to other individuals.”