LGBTA group for engineering students returns to campus

The Penn State student chapter of Out in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (oSTEM) recently reformed and is seeking new members.

Mike Skocik, an undergraduate in physics, was recently elected as the new president.

The group is in the early stages of planning new programs and is hoping to attract membership from students across the University. Skocik explains, "Any student is welcome to join, even though the name of the organization might suggest that it's for students in science and engineering fields."

The student chapter of oSTEM was established in 2005 as a professional group for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and ally (LGBTA) students. But when the president graduated, no one was available to step up and provide leadership.

When Skocik recently transferred from a community college to Penn State's University Park campus, he saw oSTEM as an invaluable way to engage in his new environment. "One of the reasons I decided to revitalize the student chapter of oSTEM is because it offers ways for students to get involved with other groups on campus and opportunities for community involvement with activities like sponsored blood drives."

Once oSTEM recruits a core group of new members, Skocik plans to hold regular meetings that are structured with a more interactive agenda than students sitting in a room. He said, "I'd like our meetings to start with a presentation, preferably from one of our company sponsors. Then we'll engage in discussion about upcoming events and conferences and end with teambuilding activities. Our goal is to make students more marketable and professional."

Although the Penn State chapter is autonomous from the national oSTEM organization, Skocik stresses the importance of maintaining close ties with them. "I have regular conversations with representatives from the national group. It's crucial to keep in touch because they have great ideas and access to so many contacts."

Skocik said the group has had difficulty recruiting members in the past because of the stigma associated with being LGBTA and in the STEM fields. "I want to convey the message that it's okay to identify as a STEM student and be LGBT at the same time," he said.

Currently, oSTEM is getting its name out by raising money as part of Team Rainbow for the Penn State Interfraternity Council/Panhellenic Dance Marathon.

According to its website, oSTEM is a non-profit corporation whose mission is to provide services and support for STEM students; create a dynamic network between students and professionals in industry and academia; provide education, outreach and professional resources to high school students and actively recruit and address the needs of diverse groups within the LGBTA community, inclusive of those who are historically underrepresented with regards to gender and ethnic background.

For more information or to join the group, contact Skocik at ostem@psu.edu.

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Last Updated February 15, 2011