STEM NOW: Student Group Invites New Members to Promote Gender Equality in STEM

A group of 16 members of STEM NOW pose, all smiling, for a group photo in a classroom at UAlbany. The group is posed in front of a white board and they are arranged in two rows. The front row is kneeling on the carpet, which is gray. All are wearing white name tags.
STEM NOW, founded by Mónica Ventura (front row, third from the right), is seeking new members to join in their efforts to build community, engage in professional development and work to promote gender equality in STEM fields. (Image provided.)

By Erin Frick 

ALBANY, N.Y. (Jan. 23, 2024) — According to the National Science Foundation, the proportion of women entering careers in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields is on the rise, yet there is still a large discrepancy in representation. In 2021, men accounted for about two-thirds (65%) of the STEM workforce, while women accounted for about a third (35%). Similar discrepancies extend to gender pay gaps and underrepresentation of women in STEM leadership positions.

For sixth-year chemistry PhD student Mónica Ventura, fostering a culture of gender equality within the University at Albany’s STEM departments is a personal mission. Recognizing the need for a supportive and inclusive community across STEM departments, Ventura founded STEM NOW (nourishing opportunities for women), a student organization dedicated to creating an accessible forum wherein people of all genders and backgrounds can work together to promote equality in STEM through professional development, networking and advocacy at UAlbany.

“Having personally experienced the challenges and disparities that exist, I wanted to take an active role in driving positive change, fostering a culture of equity, and providing a platform for individuals to navigate and excel in their STEM careers,” said Ventura, who works in the lab of Chemistry Professor Rabi Musah. “Our organization aims to break down barriers, create a sense of belonging and empower individuals from diverse backgrounds in pursuing and thriving in STEM fields.”

Since its inception, STEM NOW has garnered a membership of about 30 students and hosts regular events for members. Past events have included a panel discussion on work-life balance, being a woman in STEM, facing discrimination and navigating the job hunt. They have also hosted a CV writing workshop and hold bi-weekly bring-your-own lunch meetups.

Ten members of STEM NOW gather for a lunch meet up outside in the Life Sciences courtyard on a sunny day. They are seated around a picnic table scattered with assorted food containers and water bottles. All students are smiling.
STEM NOW members meet for a bi-weekly lunch gathering. (Image provided)

Upcoming events and looking ahead

To kick off the Spring 2024 semester, STEM NOW will be hosting a bring-your-own-lunch meet and greet event on Jan. 24 from 12- 1 p.m. in LSRB 1143. Anyone involved in a STEM department at UAlbany is welcome to attend. Then on Jan. 31 from 11 a.m. to noon, all are welcome to join STEM NOW to create a vision board and meet members. This event will also be held in LSRB 1143.

“My overarching vision for STEM NOW is to see it evolve into a dynamic hub for inspiration, collaboration and empowerment within the STEM community at UAlbany,” Ventura said. “I aspire for the organization to be a catalyst for lasting change, not only by organizing impactful events like panel discussions and professional development workshops, but also by advocating for initiatives that promote diversity and inclusion, which include the development of programs that promote women in STEM, collaborating with other organizations to do the same, and presenting about what STEM NOW does at other conferences.

“Through these efforts, I hope STEM NOW can provide a blueprint for creating supportive environments that elevate the voices and contributions of individuals traditionally underrepresented in STEM.”

“It’s really gratifying to see the next generation of leaders promoting the careers of women in STEM,” said STEM NOW faculty advisor Marlene Belfort, who is a distinguished professor of biological sciences and biomedical sciences at UAlbany and senior advisor of the RNA Institute. “They are extending the mission of UAlbany’s WISH (Women in Science and Health), which actually sponsored Monica’s attendance at a chemistry symposium, where she gave a presentation and chaired a panel on STEM NOW.”

Hear from STEM NOW members

"STEM NOW is a safe place where people have the opportunity to share personal insights and experiences without fear of judgment,” said Chemistry PhD student Benedetta Garosi, who serves as the organization’s PR Chair. “Our members support and empower each other even beyond school and work.”

"STEM NOW has become a supportive community where members can share experiences, advice and resources, which has contributed to a more inclusive and welcoming environment for many individuals,” said chemistry PhD student Alexa, who is the treasurer for STEM NOW. “This organization is actively fostering diversity and inclusion in the STEM fields at UAlbany.”

Get involved

Anyone interested in becoming a part of STEM NOW — to attend events, contribute ideas or connect with like-minded individuals — is invited to reach out to Ventura directly at [email protected] or [email protected].

You can also follow Ventura’s podcast “STEM Diaries: Beyond Breakthroughs” on Spotify. The first episode features UAlbany’s Marlene Belfort.