Maggie Fox, Women in STEM

Women in STEM: Breaking Barriers

This April, a group of undergraduate and graduate students at UCLA — from a variety of different backgrounds and fields — came together to create and host the first “Women in STEM: Breaking Barriers” summit. The three-day summit focused on breaking socioeconomic, generational and discipline-specific barriers that women in STEM face. The summit was spearheaded by UCLA Samueli graduate student Maggie Fox, a current Ph.D. candidate in the Materials Science and Engineering department. Fox hopes to use her engineering background to pursue a career related to policy and advocacy for underrepresented groups.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Fox had been interested in doing a series of talks that featured women discussing their career paths and future aspirations. Over time, this idea evolved into one large virtual summit. In addition to her personal experience with navigating education and career paths in STEM, Fox was inspired by similar stories she learned from her peers. She and eight other students decided to set up a committee and built the program for the summit based off of what they wished they had known about pursuing an education and career in STEM at different periods in their lives.

The summit featured a diverse group of speakers who represented different backgrounds and career stages. Among the speakers were Dean Jayathi Murthy, Nobel Prize-winning UCLA astronomy professor Andrea Ghez, and civil and environmental engineering professor Jennifer Jay. Fox noted that the three main goals for the summit were to create dialogue around how to break down systemic barriers that exist in STEM, build a network and sense of community, and host an event that was accessible and equitable to all.

Funding for the summit mainly came from the student groups involved and grants. Different student groups utilized funds from their own budgets to help support this event. The committee also received grants from the national Society of Women Engineers. Additionally, the Department of Physical Sciences provided the platform to host the conference.

Overall, Fox felt that the summit went very well. She concluded that the two most important takeaways were having speakers who were transparent and candid with the audience, and giving attendees a safe space to talk and form a community. Fox is very optimistic about the future of the summit and hopes to continue it on an annual basis either remotely or in a hybrid model to ensure accessibility.