Last week I participated in the first Oklahoma Women Impacting STEM and Entrepreneurship conference put on by Oklahoma Catalyst Programs and the Tom Love Innovation Hub. The conference consisted of a Thursday evening reception and an all day meeting on Friday.
The Thursday night reception was held at the Oklahoma Science Museum. What a wonderful backdrop! I was lucky enough to have my poster abstract accepted and to be asked to present at the event as well as the Friday meeting. As a presenter I showed up early and was immediately struck by seeing a room full of women setting up posters. As a woman in STEM I am of course very aware of how few of us there are, and I often am aware of being the only woman in the room. This event was strikingly different. I set up my poster and got to know the young woman next to me. Her name was Jin and she had just finisher her MS at OU. Her poster was about biomechanics of the human shoulder, and I have to admit I didn’t understand it very well. Jin was very friendly and asked me lots of questions about my work. Seems like most folks that live in Oklahoma find the weather pretty interesting! During the first hour of the reception, Jin and I grabbed some snacks and a glass of wine and sat down at a table with a handful of women. Some of these women were involved with a company that helps startups get funding for their business ideas. Another woman at the table was Norman Ward 8 council-woman, Alex Scott. While not my particular council representative, it was still pretty interesting to have a conversation with someone involved in my local government! During the second hour of the reception, Jin and I returned to our neighboring posters to present our science to other attendees. I quickly realized it was VERY hard to present my science to this audience. For better or worse, I rarely truly rehearse a presentation. If I do, I feel trapped by the script and panic when I inevitably get off it. I do alright presenting to other meteorologists, and I think I do an okay job talking to non-scientists. Talking to non-meteorology scientists was shockingly difficult. Unlike speaking to non-scientists, this audience does not want explanations that are light or watered down. They expect rigor, but don’t have the background of a meteorology audience. I definitely should have rehearsed this one. Fortunately, I was asked to present at the Thursday reception but was not judged here meaning I had time to rehearse before my evaluation on Friday!
Friday started early! My friend and classmate Briana Lynch and I arrived at the meeting hotel at 7:30am to set up my poster and enjoy a breakfast bar with other attendees. The day started with an opening keynote by Michelle Millben, CEO of MGMC Enterprises and Former Special Assistant to President Barack Obama. Her keynote was incredible! She covered women that had been skipped over in our science history, the focus on science and inspiring kids in science during her time at the white house, and the work she’s been involved with since. The most interesting part to me was her time spent in West Virginia and Kentucky as part of a national tech jobs tour. She spoke about efforts to get people left behind by dead and dying industry (e.g., coal) involved in new tech efforts (see BitSource in Pikeville, Kentucky). The continued and I attended a panel discussion on Women Impacting Society. Women on this panel were involved with some great missions such as finding work and training for the visually impaired and helping the homeless community in OKC. This discussion was outside my area of expertise, but very enlightening and inspiring. The lunch session included an interview-style keynote with Gene Nora Jessen (interviewed by Eve Peppers). Gene Nora was part of a testing program that evaluated the ability of women to be astronauts, though it was never sanctioned by NASA. After that she led a long and full career as a female pilot. Her trailblazing stories were a joy to hear! If you don’t know about Gene Nora, look her and the Mercury 13 up (there’s a recent documentary about them on Netflix). During the afternoon, I attended two panels. First, the Women Impacting Policy panel was particularly inspiring. My own Norman City council-woman Breea Clark chaired the panel including a scientist turned politician and women leading other women to run (Sally’s List) and taking part in lobbying efforts. I learned a lot, but more importantly, I was inspired and reminded how important women’s voices are in our democracy. The last panel of the day for me was the Women Impacting Environment Science panel. This panel was most relevant to me including a woman with the National Science Foundation, Emily Sutton – an on air OKC meteorologist, and an EPA postdoctoral scientist. We talked about many issues, but perhaps the most interesting was balancing life outside of science with our professions. It was awesome to hear women like me tell their stories. The day closed with a keynote by Carolyn Rodz about women in startups and how the internet is leading the way to get more diverse faces into the business world.
At the end of the meeting I was presented a prize for an outstanding poster presentation. I was very honored to receive this prize and excited to share my science with several women like me and tangential to me. I can’t wait to bring the lessons and connections I gathered at OKWISE18 forward into my career!