New club, Women in Materials Science, strengthens ties among women in STEM

Gabrielle Stewart
April 29, 2019

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — When Penn State student Ana Isabel de la Fuente Duran’s fellowship led her to tackle materials science research problems at another university last summer, she stumbled upon an entirely different problem to solve.

In her research group of more than two dozen people, just one other student was female. For de la Fuente Duran, a junior majoring in materials science and engineering, this discrepancy was jarring.

This experience made her recognize the extent to which women were underrepresented in her field and this recognition inspired her to act.

“I realized I couldn’t do anything there,” de la Fuente Duran said. “But I could do something at Penn State.”

Starting the 2018 fall semester, she got to work. By the beginning of the 2019 spring semester, she had registered the newly-founded club, Women in Materials Science — or WiMS — with Penn State Student Affairs.

Women in Materials Sciences - Susan Trolier-McKinstry

Susan Trolier-McKinstry, Steward S. Flaschen Professor of Ceramic Science and Engineering, guest lectures at a Women in Materials Science club meeting.

IMAGE: Penn State

The club, intended as a space for women to interact across professions, and encourage interactions between students and professionals, has been a success in its first semester. Club meetings are twice a month, one focused on professional development and the other on social activities where students can interact more organically with faculty and staff.

For de la Fuente Duran, who was elected WiMS president, creating this club wasn’t just about enacting change for the University and the department, but for individuals, too. As a minority female, she understands the importance of representation.

“It’s been difficult to feel confident in my field when I don’t know anybody who looks like me. I don’t have a point of reference,” she said. “Representation is one of the most important ways to encourage others to try things they might not otherwise.”

Beyond representation, the club also aims to build solidarity.

For students in a major like materials science and engineering, a feeling of community is very important, said de la Fuente Duran.

“Classes are challenging and can be even more challenging when you feel intimidated to ask questions because you’re one of three women in a classroom,” she said.

De la Fuente Duran intends for the club to encourage student involvement and, in turn, retention.

She wants to promote the organization to a variety of majors and hopes anyone with an interest in materials will join. She said the club is not just for members of the department­­ — or women, for that matter.

“I’m hoping to see more men show up,” de la Fuente Duran said, citing a guest lecture with many male students in attendance and several in regular meeting attendance. “In order to enact real change, it’s important that everyone be involved.”

Joshua Robinson, associate professor of materials science and engineering and associate director of the Center for 2-Dimensional and Layered Materials, and Amy Robinson, an instructor in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering, are the club's co-advisers.

For more information, contact de la Fuente Duran at aud70@psu.edu or visit the WiMS website.

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated May 01, 2019