Stephanie Espy discusses importance of women in STEM during Berkeley Forum event

Photo of the STEM Gems Club
Jasmine Lee/Staff
UC Berkeley alumna Stephanie Espy started the STEM Gems Club, which has grown to about 80 clubs across the United States for girls in fifth grade and above to learn about different careers in STEM through the club curriculum.

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On Thursday, the Berkeley Forum hosted author and UC Berkeley alumna Stephanie Espy for an online discussion on the importance of closing the gender gap in STEM careers.

Espy graduated from UC Berkeley in 2004 with a master’s degree in chemical engineering. She addressed her personal experiences working in engineering industries, as well as her current efforts in encouraging young women to pursue careers in STEM, or science, technology, engineering and math.

“I was the only female engineer in my department, so it was a mental check for me,” Espy said during the event. “Where are the women, and specifically, where are the women of color?”

In hopes of providing young girls with role models of women in STEM, Espy wrote the book, “STEM Gems: How 44 Women Shine in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, and How You Can Too!”

For the book, Espy interviewed 44 women in STEM careers with diverse backgrounds, ages and locations. According to Espy, she believed selecting women of diverse backgrounds was important, and she interviewed women who work in nonprofits, academia, government and private companies.

“The book was a labor of love. I wrote it with girls in mind, with high school, middle school girls in mind,” Espy said during the event. “To expose girls to STEM, to careers that they have never heard of, that I have never heard of, and I set off by finding women in those industries.”

Espy also started the STEM Gems Club, which has grown to about 80 clubs across the United States for girls in fifth grade and above to learn about different careers in STEM through the club curriculum.

In addition to the STEM Gems book and club, Espy launched the social media campaign #GiveGirlsRoleModels. According to Espy, the goal of the campaign is to bring visibility to women in STEM across the globe.

“I love this campaign because, through this, women have been empowered to share their story and feel empowered to reach girls through this way,” Espy said during the event. “They have also been empowered to start clubs and speak to clubs to share their story.”

Espy said her first job was interning as a process design engineer at a chemical plant. She added that while the work was rewarding for her, the lack of women in the department was her first experience of culture shock in engineering.

Women constitute 47% of the total U.S. labor force and 57% of all bachelor’s degrees, according to Espy. The percentage of women of color, however, who earned an engineering bachelor’s degree is 3%.

“Experiencing it is one thing, but seeing the numbers that define your experiences are very sobering,” said campus senior Omotara Oloye during the event.

Contact Jasmine Lee at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @JasmineLee_02.