Sarah Chavez has been counting the days until she crosses the Auditorium Theatre stage as a first-generation college graduate. But before the Women of Color STEM Conference, job-search stress had clouded her excitement.
“I would ask myself: Is my experience good enough? Is my résumé good enough?” said Chavez (BS Biology ’20). “How can I best compete for a position even though my résumé reflects jobs that are seemingly unrelated to my future profession?”
Those worries dissolved when Chavez and 23 other Roosevelt University students attended the annual conference hosted by Women of Color magazine. Through professional seminars and networking opportunities, the students built a practical foundation for their STEM careers.
At a time when nearly 70% of full-time scientists and engineers are white, according to the National Science Foundation, the conference creates a much-needed wellspring of diverse talent.
“Without diversity, we get limited viewpoints, limited perspectives and limited ideas,” said Roosevelt biology professor Kelly Wentz-Hunter. “Without diversity, we lose the ability to cultivate talent for generations.”
Roosevelt was able to cover the students’ cost of attendance with funds from a $1 million grant, awarded by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute for Inclusive Excellence in 2018. The main goal of the grant is to support first-generation and underrepresented students in the scientific community, both at Roosevelt and in the world beyond.
“One of the initiatives to help achieve this goal is to provide opportunities for our students to grow their science identity,” said Wentz-Hunter. “To see themselves as scientists, as colleagues, and valuable contributors to process of discovery.”
Students attended educational seminars and inspiring lectures that prepared them to make the best impression at the job fair. Chavez learned how to restructure her résumé to highlight the soft skills learned from her on-the-job experience, and how to better showcase her strong background in lab techniques. She described the solidarity she felt with the other attendees.
“Everyone around me felt the stresses of uncertainty and the anxiety of doubt,” said Chavez. “However, we were all learning together, and most importantly, we were growing together.”
For Tempie McLin (MA Biomedical Sciences, '20), the most interesting event was the leadership breakfast panel, where Roosevelt students listened to women of color talk about their personal experiences in STEM.
"These women showed me the importance of pushing through the distraction and negativity and focusing on your goals," said McLin. "As a nontraditional student, this spoke me because I currently am living out my dreams by going back to school and getting a higher education, something I thought I had lost hold of early in life."
Students then met with recruiters from government agencies like NASA, NOAA, the Civilian Army and Navy, and General Motors. Several students earned on-the-spot interviews from recruiters who promised to keep an eye out for their résumés. As she prepares to enter the medical field, McLin spoke with recruiters about careers beyond the hospital and volunteer opportunities to strengthen her applications.
Catherine Campbell, associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, served as chaperone for the weekend stay in Detroit. “Seeing the successful women of color attending and presenting at the conference truly affected the students,” Campbell said. “The educational sessions and individual meetings with recruiters showed them the path forward.”
McLin agreed. "Listening to these women's stories about dealing with work anxiety, family and life in general truly shows how trouble will arise, but mapping out your goals will help you complete your task," she said.
Roosevelt students made real, personal connections with experienced STEM professionals, many of whom offered to serve as mentors. On the final night of the conference, one student began chatting with a woman who she later learned was a manager at Boeing. The woman gave the student her personal phone number, encouraging her to stay in touch.
Students returned from the conference with energy and enthusiasm, ready to tackle the job search process with their new skills and connections. One student described the conference as “life-changing” while others nodded in agreement.
“The WOC STEM Conference truly boosted my confidence in finding a desired career post-graduation,” said Chavez. “It also provided me with opportunities for growth and avenues of how to get to where I need to be. I’m so grateful to have such an amazing experience.”