Now is the time to inspire the next generation of women in STEM


by Catherine Murari-Kanti, UNeMed | May 3, 2017

Dr. Murari-Kanti

This past weekend I witnessed something exciting. I got a glimpse into the future. A future that has strong, young confident ladies leading the way. This was possible because I was invited to be a panelist at a STEM conference for seventh and eighth grade girls. STEM is an education initiative emphasizing fields related to science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

The University of Nebraska Medical Center, in collaboration with Bellevue University, put together a daylong seminar: “Expanding your horizons in math and science – a conference for young women.” There, about 150 middle school girls from the Omaha and Bellevue public school districts got together to discover different STEM careers and get advice and encouragement for women holding STEM careers.

The day began with breakfast, followed by a great talk by the keynote speaker Katie Barton, Executive Director of Software Development and Services at Gallup, Inc. Her energetic personality and humor elicited peals of laughter and giggles. She stated facts about how women were underrepresented in almost all STEM careers. She said 50 percent of girls in middle school want to participate in STEM education. But only 20 percent actually pursue a STEM education and career after high school.

The girls participated in the Clifton StrengthsFinder survey, an assessment tool that helps identify their specific talents and discover what they naturally do best. She encouraged the girls to understand their strengths and recognize their weakness’ that would make their career planning easier. As Barton provided career solutions based on each strength, the energy in the auditorium was palpable. It was the quiet recognition that girls can achieve anything they want in life and be successful, despite societal challenges and existing disparities.

Barton shared three critical areas where women give up on careers in STEM. First are the women who struggle to get their first break in a STEM job. The second is when they choose between a family and a successful career. Third is when they are passed over for promotions to their male counterparts.

The Gallup executive said it was up to the girls to stand up and make a mark for themselves; to work hard; have good work ethic; develop good relationships with their superiors; and push for what they wanted to achieve. Barton was a tough act to follow, but I was up next to share my educational background and career story.

They laughed when I told them I was in school continuously for 30 years, preschool to graduate school. I told them about my role as a Licensing Associate at UNeMed. I explained how innovation, technology transfer and intellectual property affects them. I told them how innovation usually starts with an idea or a solution to a problem. I encouraged them observe their surroundings and find solutions to problems. They asked me questions about my background, the work I do and what excites me to come to work every day.

I shared stories about entrepreneurs who came up with simple solutions to life’s difficulties and they listened to me with rapt attention. Many girls expressed a desire to pursue biology and chemistry, while there was one who was absolutely in love with math, and wanted to eventually get a doctorate in mathematics. I was excited to see the glimmer of excitement for the future in these girls’ eyes.

I was fortunate to share the room with other spectacular woman panelists successful in various fields such as database management at Mutual of Omaha, environment safety and hazardous material management from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, cytogeneticist and post-doctoral researchers from the University of Nebraska Medical Center, clinical psychologist from Boystown Hospital, research and development project manager from Teledyne Cetac Industries, Six Sigma Black Belt, enterprise quality and outcome coordinator at Nebraska Medicine, financial advisor at UBS, nurse at Alegent Health and IT representatives from Gallup.

I am excited for the future of STEM education and careers for girls in Nebraska. As a woman in STEM, I believe I have the ability to influence, educate and empower girls to choose an education and career in scientific fields. The girls I met are smart, bright, outgoing and funny. They have a desire to make it big, and I think the responsibility lies on all of us to push them to achieve their goals.

I am thankful for the opportunity to represent UNeMed at this event, and empower the next generation of women for a brighter future.

Comments are closed.