Mount Saint Mary’s University, Los Angeles: Empowering women in STEM

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At Mount Saint Mary’s University Los Angeles, Samantha Herrador evolved from a student to become a leader in science and technology. Through the Global Women in STEM (GWSTEM) and Policy Undergraduate Research Training Honours programme, she travelled to Peru — where she learned things she could not have possibly gotten from studying books, photos or videos in the classroom.

“My experience during this trip exceeded my expectations,” says the Class of 2018 graduate. “I didn’t just learn some research skills or the basis of Andean and Quechuan culture in relation to cancer incidence and traditional remedies; I was able to truly understand and even relate to fundamental indigenous beliefs that without a doubt influence how rural communities seek medical attention.”

The trip taught her a lot. “The connection between nature, the spirit and the highlands was evident in the healing ceremony. It’s not hard to see why the Incas worshipped the mountains and the sun, and I think this kind of personal understanding is important to understanding the healthcare situation in Peru and other places where some indigenous or traditional beliefs may prevail.”

Mount Saint Mary's University, Los Angeles

Source: Mount Saint Mary’s University, Los Angeles

GWSTEM trains cohorts of undergraduate women to conduct basic and applied research in both the sciences and social sciences in a global setting. Many, like Herrador, set off on adventures while engaging with the world and conducting field research even before graduation.

“The goal of the programme is to give students an insight into academic research and global experiences with the aim to broaden their career perspectives and open up their possibilities after graduation,” says Lia Roberts, a professor and co-coordinator of GWSTEM. “Our goal with this project is to increase the number of women entering, and excelling, in the fields of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics), public policy and behavioural and social sciences.”

Travelling to another country, carrying out research and learning how to work in a team — these are things that make young women believe they can break more glass ceilings. Another Class of 2018 graduate, Erica Cisneros, confirms this: “This project definitely drew me out of my comfort zone. But it also forced me to look at things from outside my spectrum, and that led me to find my new passion for policy and public health. If I hadn’t applied to this programme, I don’t think I would have been as confident in applying to graduate schools for a master’s in public health, let alone toying with the idea of getting my PhD.”

For Mount students, going abroad isn’t the only way they make global connections. At the Centre for Global Initiatives, they can learn about literature in Rome, folk music in Argentina, and history in Southern France.

Mount Saint Mary's University, Los Angeles

Source: Mount Saint Mary’s University, Los Angeles

By the time they graduate, Mount students are citizens of the world — the very kind in demand at top companies and organisations. “Rigorous, original research helps students develop critical thinking skills, learn how to troubleshoot problems and persevere when things don’t work out the first time around,” says Luiza Nogaj, a professor of biological sciences at the institution. “Those are the skills that employers, graduate programmes and medical schools are looking for. Those are also the skills that give our students the confidence to dream big.”

With confidence, comes success. Many GWSTEM graduates have gone on to pursue postgraduate courses in STEM and Policy at world-class institutions, such as a PhD in Biology at the University of Rochester, a PhD in Pharmacology at Brown University, an MS in Public Health at the University of Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine, an MS in Public Health at University of California Irvine, an MS in Public Health at University of California San Diego, and an MS in Public Health at Baylor University.

They’re set for great things — and not just in one field. GWSTEM graduates often return with broadened horizons. Class of 2019 graduate Janae Jones illustrates this from her trip to Peru’s highlands. “I’ve always wanted to go into the medical field, but I had no idea how much this journey to Peru was going to affect me,” she says. “I’ve learned that there is so much more to healthcare than the medical component alone — cultural context, family and work issues, access to care, pain management, the level of trust patients need to have. This programme opened my eyes to new pathways to pursue.”

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