STEM faculty combats underrepresentation with success panel

A collaborative support team at El Camino College, which is part of Guided Pathways, is taking the initiative to provide an equitable space for current and prospective STEM students.

On Dec. 4, the support team presented an equity-focused event titled “STEM: an exploration by professionals.” With 83 participants, the event followed a Q&A format with an open panel discussion followed by breakout rooms.

The science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) Success Team is comprised of faculty, staff, counselors, administrators and students within the STEM meta-major.

Polly Parks, a biology professor who has been the STEM Success Team lead for two years, wanted to bring awareness and perspective to her classroom by co-creating an event that dialed in pieces of the classroom that were missing.

“[Just] to bring more equitable based practices into my classroom allows students to tell their stories,” Parks said.

Parks said the importance of addressing race and diversity in not only STEM-based classes but “every classroom” sparked her interest in co-coordinating the event with the Success Team.

Upon further conversations with colleagues, Parks was introduced to a “handful” of physician assistant (PA) students at King/Drew High School of Medicine and Science in Los Angeles, where they shared their experiences of not feeling represented enough in the sciences.

“They [students] said ‘I just, when I was a young student, when I was in community college, when I was at university; I needed to see more people like me in roles of what I wanted to be,’” Parks said. “[So] I really [was] inspired by talking to them.”

Her inspiration for the event was then passed on to the STEM Success Team, where they all came together to create a multi-faceted Zoom event, sharing the “journeys, passions, and experiences” of underrepresented individuals within the STEM cohort.

The panelists included: electrical engineer and ECC alumni Fabiola Barajas; UC Riverside postdoctoral fellow in the department of molecular, cell and systems biology, Nicole Sparks; and electrical engineer from Raytheon Technologies, Shay Paredes.

Each panelist addressed and highlighted their career paths by sharing intimate moments as a STEM major in college and ways students can recognize and take hold of the collaborative environment STEM has to offer.

Diego Flores Perez, 22, engineering major, heard about the event through an email sent from his professor and was interested to find out more from panelists in their shared experiences from college to their STEM career today.

“I actually got a lot of [help], basically, through them [the panelist] and seeing how they went through the whole community college [experience] and later on [a] four-year college career as well,” he said.

Flores Perez said his favorite part of the event was the breakout rooms, as he was able to hear first-hand personal stories from the respected panelist of his major and how beneficial it is for students like himself to have “peer to peer relationships.”

Ana Ferreira Souto, 20, psychology major, and Associated Students Organization (ASO) director of equity, diversity and inclusion, commends the efforts of the STEM Success Team and hopes this can be the first of many held at ECC.

“I think it’s amazing, honestly, and I think it’s definitely needed,” Ferreira Souto said. “[It’s] one of the more important initiatives El Camino has had.”

Flores Perez said even with or without the current ongoing struggles of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is crucial that STEM students continue to be a main point of outreach in El Camino’s ongoing educational initiatives similar to the one held.

“[An] outreach to students to get involved with different [parts of their major and] with their peers, and to get, pretty much … friends, you can say, to help each other out and communicate with each other, because going through this alone is, it’s pretty hard,” he said.

More information about STEM and additional resources can be found here.