MEEN Girls host conference to promote professional development for women in STEM

MEEN girls stem

Students from across science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) majors at Texas A&M University had the opportunity on Sept. 23 to complement their classroom knowledge with advice from professionals.

“We’re all trying to get through college and onto a career path that, in some way or another, is a little bit different than what we’re used to,” said junior Maricarmen Del Toro-Montanez. “The conference brought together faculty, industry, engineers of practice and anyone that was interested in advancing careers for females in STEM.”

Montanez is chair of the student organization MEEN Girls, which provides opportunities for women within the Department of Mechanical Engineering. The organization hosted its inaugural Aggie Women in STEM Conference on Sept. 23.

Representatives from Accenture, Air Liquide, Baker Hughes-a GE Company, BASF, BP and Pepsi Co. hosted professional development workshops with students to discuss finding professional mentors, public speaking, interviewing with confidence and more.

Frida Rivera, class of 2018 and external affairs director of MEEN Girls, said these are topics that may not be discussed by professors.

“There’s certain things that when you’re looking for jobs in the STEM field that people don’t necessarily develop in the classroom, so we just wanted them to get that opportunity,” Rivera said.

Shawna Fletcher, director of Texas A&M’s Women in Engineering program, said the goals of the event were to network, learn from field experts and attend development workshops.

“The importance of this event is to draw together our community of women students, and it’s not just for engineering students,” she said. “This conference actually spans the campus and spans different majors.”

Montanez, class of 2019, said the idea for the conference came from discussions with representatives from BP, the founding sponsor of MEEN Girls, who were interested in giving back to the community. MEEN Girls proposed a women STEM conference to provide a supportive network for students at Texas A&M.

When the idea of the conference was approved, the BP representatives requested that the event be open to “not just mechanical engineers, but anyone who was in STEM-related fields,” Rivera said.

Along with the breakout sessions, the conference included a number of speakers. Dr. Andreas Polycarpou, head of the mechanical engineering department, discussed how the landscape of the engineering school and Texas A&M has changed over the years as women have been admitted. He said he would like to continue to increase the number of women in mechanical engineering, which sits at about 19 percent at the university.

“I encourage you to pursue your dreams with conviction and passion and if you do so, you will never ‘work’ a single day in your lives,” he told attendees.

Cindy Yeilding, senior vice president of BP America, was the conference’s keynote speaker. She discussed how the workplace is constantly changing and offered some advice on how the next generation of STEM employees can thrive, including being flexible.

“Things do change, priorities change. Business patterns change and sometimes you don’t quite understand the change,” she said. “Be logical.”

Shayla Rivera, director of the Engineering[x] program at Texas A&M, encouraged the attendees to step outside their comfort zones to be able to try new opportunities.

“What you’re unaware of controls you; what you become aware of you can change,” she said. “You’ve got to become aware of these places where you are limiting yourself. If you’re not aware of them, they’re in charge.”

MEEN Girls was established in 2016 and works alongside the Texas A&M chapter of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. Their mission is to provide opportunities that lead to professional networking, peer learning, faculty interaction and social events. For more information about the organization, visit the Texas A&M MEEN Girls Facebook page.