Everyone has a mentor, someone they look to for direction and guidance. For Alicia Prieto Langarica, it was a Hispanic female professor she had while studying mathematics at the University of Texas Arlington.
“Until that point, I didn’t really think I could get a Ph.D., and I didn’t really think I could be a professor,” recalls Prieto Langarica, a native of Mexico and now an assistant professor of Mathematics and Statistics at YSU. “Then I saw her, and she was doing it, and I thought, ‘Well, if she can, then I can.’ She was an inspiration.”
Prieto Langarica, who earned a Ph.D. in mathematics from UT Arlington, is among the growing number of female faculty in YSU’s College of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.
Since 2007, when the STEM College was created, the number of female faculty has increased from 17 to 24, a 41 percent jump. Just this academic year, three women joined the STEM faculty ranks: Prieto Langarica, Kerry Meyers and Colleen McLean.
“Female students seeking careers in STEM fields have few role models,” said Martin Abraham, STEM dean. “When middle school and high school girls don’t see successful women in these areas, they think women should not aspire to these fields. Girls who excel at math and science are regularly discouraged from continuing in these areas, despite their capability and desire. They opt out from a science or engineering career, and we as a society lose the benefits they would bring.”
Earlier this month, STEM hosted three events on campus, including the annual Edward W. Powers Women in Science and Engineering Career Day, to help encourage middle and high school girls to pursue careers in math, science and engineering. While those efforts are important, equally important is getting women faculty in classrooms to act as role models.
“Having women faculty in STEM is the first step in helping these young ladies fulfill their potential,” Abraham said.
Meyers agreed. “It’s important that female STEM students see not only female faculty but also other female STEM students,” said Meyers, director of the First-Year Engineering Program at YSU. Meyers, whose father was an engineer, earned a Ph.D. from Purdue University and came to YSU from the University of Notre Dame.
“It all has to do with identity. If they can’t see themselves in that role, then students who are on the fence about whether or not to enter engineering or the sciences, they just move on to another discipline.”
Prieto Langarica said that in Mexico smart girls did not have boyfriends. “So for girls, it was a bad thing to seem smart,” she said. While she said she’s not sure the same applies to American girls, “I do see that the females in my classroom, at least, they seem to be less secure of their abilities.”
“I try really hard to be a mentor for (the girls in my class), and to be a role model, because I think I owe it to my mentor and my role model, for what she did for me,“ she added.