George Mason University is hosting a first-of-its-kind research conference and holistic wellness retreat for women of the African diaspora in STEM.
STEMNoire is a virtual event that runs Thursday through Saturday, bringing together hundreds of Black women throughout the diaspora, providing resources, networking opportunities and the community support needed for diverse talent retention and success in STEM.
“I have never seen or participated in an event like this for women in STEM,” said Kelly Knight, the associate professor in the Forensic Science Program and STEM Accelerator program within Mason’s College of Science, who is serving on the event’s Planning Council. “This is an event put on by Black women for Black women.”
The event aims to dramatically increase the presence of Black women in STEM by highlighting the contributions of Black women to the past, present and future of STEM fields. Conference attendees will leave with targeted personal and professional development resources necessary for resilience in STEM education and the workforce. The event features research keynote speakers Monica Cox, professor of engineering education at the Ohio State University and a 2020 American Society for Engineering Education Fellow, and Ijeoma Opara, assistant professor and director of the Substance Abuse and Sexual Health (SASH) Lab at Yale University.
Nicole Washington, a veteran tech entrepreneur, Angel Investor and the Mason Presidential Partner, will deliver Saturday’s opening remarks.
The three-day event will also include a wellness aspect for attendees with activities such as yoga.
Washington said added persistence is needed to increase the number of women of color in STEM, noting that they tend to leave the field for a variety of reasons.
“STEMNoire offers a way to show Black women who are considering careers in STEM that they are not alone," she said.
Knight will serve as a moderator for one of the Saturday afternoon panels called “Building a Competitive and Transferrable STEM Career Skillset.” Joining her on that panel will be Mason’s Rochelle Jones, an associate professor of systems engineering and operations research within the Volgenau School of Engineering; Mason doctoral student Marissa Howard, a graduate research assistant from the Center for Applied Proteomics and Molecular Medicine within the College of Science; and Carissa Hunter, a third-year PhD student and academic and student affairs coordinator for the College of Science.
In 2017, only 2.48% of Black women in the United States were employed in science and engineering occupations, according to the STEMNoire website.
And that’s something that Kilan Ashad-Bishop, co-founder of STEMNoire, hopes to see change.
“Plenty of fields of scientific endeavor could not have been founded without the sometimes voluntary, sometimes involuntary contributions of the same women and underrepresented minorities,” she said. “This space, curated for Black women who exist at the intersection of race and gender, is a social prototype for intentionally inclusive STEM spaces.”
STEMNoire 2021 is sponsored by Mason’s College of Science, the Volgenau School of Engineering, Amazon Web Services, AIDS Healthcare Foundation, and Cambridge Mobile Telematics.