Skip navigation

USM’s Women in Science and Engineering Organization Bolsters STEM Awareness

Tue, 03/30/2021 - 11:09am | By: Van Arnold

Across the United States, women continue to establish important footholds in careers associated with science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). However, their numbers still lag significantly behind men who work in the same arena.

At The University of Southern Mississippi, STEM proponents like graduate student Karina Reynolds and polymer professor Dr. Sarah Morgan are striving to close that gap. Both are proactively involved in the University’s Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) organization, which aims to offer an environment that bolsters women in STEM fields.

Reynolds, who is pursuing her doctorate in polymer science, serves as the group’s president. Morgan offers support and guidance as the faculty adviser. Formed in 2003, WISE includes approximately 50 members, comprised of undergraduate and graduate students.

For Reynolds, participation in WISE is quite simple. “I am very passionate about keeping women in the science and engineering fields, and I feel that being the president of WISE gives me a chance to interact with many bright and capable women in my field,” she said. “This has allowed me to grow as a woman in STEM and has given me the opportunity to mentor younger members on how to deal with the pressures that come with a STEM career.”

Despite making up nearly half of the U.S. workforce, women are still vastly underrepresented in the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) workforce, according to 2019 U.S. Census figures. Women made gains – from eight percent of STEM workers in 1970 to 27 percent in 2019 – but men still dominated the field. Men made up 52 percent of all U.S. workers but 73 percent of all STEM workers.

Morgan says the gains have come at a much slower pace than she and others in the STEM community would like to see.

“Surprisingly, women are not making significant gains in the physical sciences, engineering and computer science in the United States, and USM is in-line with those trends,” she said. “There are very few women faculty in tenure and tenure-track positions in these fields at USM. We need to work harder to find role models for women students and encourage them to pursue opportunities in STEM.”

Morgan points out that the University’s WISE organization remains active in mentoring, professional development and outreach. WISE graduate students provide mentoring for undergraduates.

“Every semester, women faculty from other universities around the world provide scientific presentations on campus and meet with WISE for a career and professional development session,” said Morgan. “WISE sponsored an event with women from industry, national laboratories and academia for a full day of professional development. This included interview skills, conflict resolution and negotiation.”

In addition, WISE has competed for and received funding from the American Chemical Society to provide science kits for girls in elementary schools and support awards for girls at local science fairs. Fundraising to support food banks, animal shelters and outreach to K-12 girls in STEM are all part of the annual effort in WISE.

A native of Keystone, Colo., Reynolds earned a Bachelor of Science degree in chemistry from California Polytechnic State University. She says that her passion for science and engineering sprang from her parents’ career – both of whom worked in STEM fields.

When asked what her sales pitch might be to a student contemplating membership in WISE, Reynolds responded: “WISE, while aimed at women in science and engineering, is an organization for anyone who wants to learn more about what goes into being a woman on that career path. We aim to foster an environment of learning and growth through career-oriented activities, while still having fun participating in lab demos and mentoring younger students.”

Reynolds emphasizes that WISE is open to all members of the USM community who want to support women in STEM and learn about some of the great female leaders in the field. WISE meetings are held virtually on the third Friday of each month from 10-11 a.m. For more information, contact or karina.reynoldsFREEMississippi