College of Arts and Sciences celebrates women in STEM

In celebration of the International Day of Women and Girls in Science, the Mary and John Gray Library joined forces with the College of Arts and Sciences to present "Empowered Women Empowering Women." This event featured a panel comprising accomplished women in science and technology, accompanied by an enlightening showcase of student research. Women's Day Empowered Women Group Photo

The panelists, consisting of Donnetta M. Denson, a quality data specialist at the Mont Belvieu Plastics Plant for ExxonMobil; Dr. Xiangyang (Sunny) Lei, senior associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences; Renuka Polimera, QC lab superintendent at TotalEngergies Petrochemicals & Refining; and Dr. Jenny Zhou, associate dean of the College of Engineering, brought forth their diverse experiences and insights. 

The overarching goal of the event was to celebrate the contributions of women and girls in science, addressing the gender gap, and fostering diversity and inclusion in STEM fields. Each panelist shared her unique journey, unveiling personal challenges and triumphs, thereby inspiring the audience with narratives of breaking barriers in their respective industries. 

Dr. Jenny Zhou, delving into her background in mechanical engineering, not only highlighted her professional journey, but also shed light on the pivotal role her parents played in shaping her educational path, encouraging attendees to pursue their interests.  
Women's Day Students STEM“My background is mechanical engineering. I'm fortunate to have supportive parents. They always encouraged me to read books, all kinds of books in subjects I'm interested in,” Dr. Zhou said. “I still remember when I was in elementary school, reading books about how mathematics and physics help the world amazed me. Later, I just followed my parents' footsteps to pursue science. It's my great joy to help students and disseminate my knowledge.” 

Donnetta M. Denson stressed the importance of authenticity in professional settings. Encouraging women to embrace their strengths and uniqueness.  

 “A lot of ladies don't want to come off too strong or too timid. They want to strike the right balance. As a woman, if you think being authentic is not ‘just right,’ if you're a little strong, that's okay. They might as well know you now,” Denson said. 

Denson also addressed the evolving landscape of women in STEM fields throughout her career, sharing, “For the first 10 years of my career, there were no other ladies anywhere. But as time goes on, right now, I can see so many young women engineers in the field and supervising. It's really good to see. I encourage you ladies to continue your interest in science and inspire others you come across.”  

Polimera emphasized the significance of mentorship. 

“We can talk about gender bias, but it’s also important to understand our own strengths and weaknesses,” Polimera said. "We still have to learn from others through mentorship. Take advantage of the mentorship opportunities available in the university — from your professors to colleagues and employers. Listen to them; take the lead in pushing yourself to strengthen both your mind and body."  Students presenting at Women Panel

In addition to the enlightening discussions, the panelists offered valuable advice and encouragement to the audience. Dr. Lei stressed the importance of seeking guidance.  

“I would suggest to you all, if you have any concerns, talk with your advisor or instructors. I'm trying my very best to be a good person, to be a role model and mentor for young girls like you all. So, if you need anybody to talk to, please feel free to reach out to me,” Dr. Lei said. 

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