Alumnae Mentors Pave STEM Pathways

Thursday, January 19, 2017
STEM-Pathways -girls

Difference Makers: Students Sydney Rodenback (left) and Jayme Brace are planning to help increase female diversity in engineering.

Alumnae with Cook Pharmica are providing pathways for other female Rose-Hulman students to follow in their footsteps toward science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) careers.

This is addressing a critical area of gender diversity in the workplace. About 20 percent of undergraduate engineering degrees are awarded annually to women, but only 15 percent of the chemical engineering workforce in 2014 was female, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Numerous explanations have been offered for this discrepancy, but a new national study appearing in the Work and Occupations journal identifies one factor as a lack of mentorship for women in engineering.

In 2008, Sophia Percival was a validation intern at Cook Pharmica's plant in Bloomington, Ind. The company's internship program was in its infancy, and she was one of the first Rose-Hulman female students tapped to participate. It was such a worthwhile summer experience, with an encouraging female STEM mentor, that Percival hoped to pave the way for others to follow-from Rose-Hulman.

"A mentor can have a significant impact on an intern," says the 2009 biomedical engineering alumna. "My mentor, Migdalia, was the first person I would seek out to ask for help or more things to do. She was strong and confident with many years of pharmaceutical industry experience. It was hard to say goodbye to her at the end of the summer."

So, Percival hoped to be an inspirational influence when she had the opportunity to mentor technical services interns Adriana Rubycz and Kara Davis. Both interns made considerable contributions, with Rubycz revitalizing the company's New Client Survey to assess potential business clients. Meanwhile, Davis developed a set of spreadsheets that the Drug Product Technical Services Department still uses for tracking and trending metrics related to client projects.

"I learned how to function in a fast-paced business environment," remarks Rubycz, a 2014 chemical engineering graduate. "My internship changed the way I organized my work and how I presented that work to others, and I've been using and evolving those skills ever since."

Davis, a 2016 chemical engineering alumna, adds, "Having a female mentor absolutely helped me. It was great to see a young female (Percival) who is professional, successful and well respected."

STEM Pathways Group1

Memorable Mentors: Cook Pharmica engineering mentors and interns (from left) Jayme Brace, Sydney Rodenbeck, Sophia Percival, Kara Davis and Adriana Rubycz have worked together on several summer projects.

Because of their contributions, Cook Pharmica hired Rubycz and Davis following their graduations. Percival was proud of her role in bringing two more female engineers, especially from Rose-Hulman, into the company.

"Knowing that I had played a role in helping someone find a job that they were passionate about was an immense gift," she says.

Last summer, the mentorship role was paid forward as Percival and Rubycz helped current biomedical engineering and chemical engineering students Jayme Brace and Sydney Rodenbeck as company interns. Both students are hoping to bring more gender diversity to engineering.

"Hopefully, one day all girls will grow up knowing that they can be an engineer if they want, and I would love to play a role in that happening," says Brace, a senior who is president of Rose-Hulman's Student Government Association this year. "I believe that having a female mentor, especially one from Rose-Hulman, helped me because she understands the skills that I have learned during my education and how they can best be applied for the company."

Rodenbeck adds, "I wanted to become an engineer because I always loved math and science. I wanted a job where I could make a positive impact on the world, but was also challenging. Engineering seemed to be the right fit . . . Through this (Cook Pharmica) internship I learned that I really enjoy the industry and am definitely interested in working in the pharmaceutical industry for a career."