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Aiming High

Taylor Harris, UNI STEM Ambassador

Taylor Harris has had quite an adventure so far at UNI. She originally came to the university seeking a degree in Chemistry Teaching, but her focus slowly shifted. She also loved physics in high school and decided she might want to study it more. She did not change her major at first. Instead, she added Physics Teaching as a second major. Then she eventually stopped pursuing a degree in Chemistry. Now, she is working on a BS in Physics and a teaching degree. 

“I started getting more interested in physics and that future possibility of maybe wanting to become a professor. Teaching the teachers to teach. So I decided to change to a BS in Physics,” she says, explaining the path to choosing her current field of study.

When asked why she chose UNI, she says it was mostly because of the education program. However, size also played a factor.

“It’s quite renown, nationally even. And I knew I wanted to become a science teacher . . . The science departments at UNI, they’re really strong. Yeah, they’re not that big, but they’re still big enough where you can form a good community and get to know everybody. I think that’s what really appealed to me as well as pursuing upper-level science education here.”

Taylor describes herself as “a big science nerd all around.” She is interested in many aspects of science outside of her current field. In fact, she took one of her favorite classes while she was still majoring in Chemistry. Organic Chemistry made her realize just how much there is to learn about science.

“When you’re in organic lab and you’re learning distillation techniques and how to synthesize these molecules and all this other stuff, it’s like ‘Wow! I actually did that. I understand these concepts,’” she explains, adding that she had a similar reaction to a class she’s currently taking: Modern Physics. The topics covered, like relativity and quantum mechanics, are quite complex. For Taylor, that’s what makes them so neat to explore.

Student organizations have played a large part in what makes her UNI experience special. In fact, she was one of the students that spearheaded the revitalization of the Physics Club. Looking at how involved students were in the American Chemical Society, she hoped that something similar could be done within the physics department.

“When I was a freshman/sophomore coming into the physics department, there was no organization for physics majors to get together, hang out, socialize, or even have opportunities to grow professionally or even do outreach opportunities such as volunteering at events. Things like that,” she says. “Starting it up has really helped not just my educational career, but I also know that it has helped a lot of other people’s too. Even this just this past semester, I’ve gotten to know so many physics majors that are here on campus, and that’s really nice. Because I only knew like maybe 15 of them, but now I know like 50 of them.”

Taylor has stayed involved in her department in other ways as well, including research. She is doing one research credit this semester, but also intends to work on two different projects over the summer. One of her projects involves dichalcogenide layers. Dichalcogenides are a type of dark, magnetic, semiconductors. This is important because semiconductors are essential to electronics because their properties can be controlled. Dichalcogenides are in particular are a special, new area of semiconductor research. They can be used as transistors, emitters, and detectors, and many other things. Taylor’s research involves creating a technique to develop them in layers, and then examining their properties.

Her other project is more related to education. She will be teaching high school students how to code using called Arduino. Arduino is an open-source hardware and software company, whose platform helps users create interactive devices and objects. 

“So it’s basically these little kits and they can make a little robot with it and it can do all sorts of things,” she explains. “It’s about how can we use this robotic, mathematical model to teach physics.”

Taylor spends a lot of time with her research and course work, but she does have free time. She stays involved in campus ministry. She also likes to go rock-climbing, and, when the weather is nice enough, relaxing in a hammock.

Taylor has advice for future STEM students, particularly women in STEM. “I know something that I struggled with coming in as a STEM major, especially in the physics department, it’s a little bit of a different dynamic because I’m one of very few women in the department. Unfortunately, that’s just kind of how it is. It’s a male-dominated field. Being the lone wolf, at times, within the department is a little intimidating. Just don’t be afraid to go after what you want to go after. A lot of people sometimes catch themselves in a comparison game. They’re like ‘Oh, I don’t know if I could do this.’ But really the sky is the limit, so just jump as high as you can. Just don’t let anything get in your way. Don’t be afraid to set your goals high.” She goes on to explain, “I went to a women in physics conference in Lincoln, Nebraska. They host it every year. It was really cool seeing all the women there, presenting in their various fields, but I think the stigma against women in STEM is starting to go away. No matter what your background is, no matter what, don’t be afraid to be a leader in your field.

 

Brooke Wiese, UNI STEM Graduate Assistant
Posted: 03-14-19

Creating Community for Women in STEM

Women in STEM

There is a new STEM-based student organization on campus this semester! Women in STEM, founded by Allison Eagan, Abigail Weekly, and Shannon Havel, was started with a purpose in mind. Their mission? To encourage and support women interested in STEM fields, particularly fields where they are underrepresented, and to expose women to possible careers in STEM they may not have otherwise considered.

“My goal was to make it a social and academic club. I think you can learn a lot from different majors. My thought was that you might find an interest you didn’t know you had before because you’re not really exposed to a lot of these fields,” said Allison Eagan, Women in STEM president. Allison is a biology major at UNI, with a minor in chemistry.  “You kind of just make a decision when you’re 18. ‘I’m going to major in this.’ There are so many more options than that.”

According to Allison, there are a variety of ways the organization will help out its members. There will be a study night once a month, where students can see what everyone else is studying, offer assistance, or maybe find a new interest. In addition, the group will offer resources and assistance for members’ academic pursuits. “Most of us are planning on going to graduate school so you’re going to need a resume or statement and there are all things that we can touch on and help each other with even though our majors are so different.”

Women in STEM plans to get involved with other women-oriented student organizations as well. They have already reached out to existing groups like Women in Computing to come to their events. They do not have any large events planned yet because they are still so new, but Allison thought doing a collaboration with another student organization or department would be a great way to get their feet wet. One of their potential collaborations would be with Northern Iowa Feminists and Women’s and Gender Studies for Women’s History Month.

Allison would like anyone interested to know that you do not have to be a studying a STEM major to attend meetings. The group is open to anyone and everyone interested in supporting the idea of women in STEM. “If you like science or are friends with people in science or it’s just something you want to add as a minor, I think it would be fun to come. We don’t only focus on science, either. One of our speakers coming is going to talk about stress—how to deal with stress around finals or stuff like that.”

The group’s advisor is Dr. Brittany Flokstra from UNI’s department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. According to her, the timing of the group’s formation was a great coincidence.  “What’s interesting is that at the same time I was talking to the provost. They were considering some kind of women in STEM initiative,” she explained. “So we had been chatting about that and then Allison just walks in one day and says, ‘I want to start this group and we’re looking for a faculty advisor.’ I’m like, yes! That is where I want to spend my time and energy.”

According to the National Science Foundation, the proportion of women awarded degrees in the sciences has risen for most fields since 1995. However, while the proportion of women with degrees social sciences and biosciences today is fairly high (ranging from 51 to 58% depending on the field or degree level), the proportion of women with degrees in computer science, physics, or engineering is fairly low. For example, despite substantial increases in the number of women receiving degrees in physics, the proportion of women working in the field is only 20% (National Science Foundation, 2017).

This is why Dr. Flokstra believes that groups like Women in STEM are important for the purpose of boosting visibility. She explains that, while things are better for women and other minority groups in the sciences now than they used to be, that visibility can make a difference. This is especially true for those who might not consider a certain career because they have not seen many people like them in that role. That exposure to difference fields and careers is a part of the group’s mission.

Dr. Flokstra loves Allison’s idea of using the group to support each other. She dislikes the stereotypical image of women in professional settings being catty to each other, believing it to be a false one. “I find that in academia, for the most part, we [women] tend to lift each other up.” This is exactly what they are doing with Women in STEM.

She would also like to urge students to come to the group’s meetings, stating that more input from other students could help shape the group in the future. “Because we’re so new, we’re still figuring out what exactly we would like this to be. So we’re at a really great place because we have a vision, and Allison has a very clear vision, and we have a communal idea of what we want this to look like moving forward,” she said. “But that it is not rigid. It’s not set. We’re open to the idea that other people are going to be coming in with ideas of what this group could be or could do.”

The main meetings will be held once a month, with guest speakers at each meeting. Please email Allison Eagan at eagana@uni.edu for more information.

 

National Science Foundation, National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics. 2017. Women, Minorities, and Persons with Disabilities in Science and Engineering: 2017. Special Report NSF 17-310. Arlington, VA.

 

Brooke Wiese, UNI STEM Graduate Assistant
Posted: 03-07-19

Calculating Her Future

Marnie Hoefler, UNI STEM Ambassador

Marnie Hoefler, sophomore and STEM ambassador, came to the University of Northern Iowa knowing exactly what she wanted to do. She declared her major as Statistics and Actuarial Science. This is a field which involves gathering and making sense of data, as well as using math to predict risk.

After that, her classes only confirmed to her that she had made the right decision. She feels the mathematics department has an amazing faculty and community. “The faculty were so kind and so helpful to me whenever I needed anything,” she said. “I have also found some of my best friends through those [math] classes.”

It may have helped that she took Statistics her freshman year, which she looks back at fondly as her favorite class. “Any and all of my math classes have been extremely helpful to me thus far in my academic career. They have also prepared me for jobs,” she said. This is especially true for Statistics, which she believes will be useful in her field. Statistics is the branch of mathematics which deals with the gathering, organizing, and interpreting data, so it is linked closely with her major.

UNI itself, however, was not a school she had initially considered as an option. One last minute visit changed her mind. “I visited a bigger and also smaller school, but neither seemed like they were for me,” she explained. “Everyone there [at UNI] was so welcoming and kind, and it was really the perfect size for me.”

While at UNI, Marnie has enjoyed participating in several organizations and programs, but the Peer Mentor program has been one of her favorites so far. “I was a mentor for a class of new students here at UNI. I was there for them as a resource and gave them information to make their transition into college easier.”

The role of a peer mentor is to help ensure first year student success. Peer mentors enroll in a mentoring course where they attend a Cornerstone or first year only course each time it meets. They assist professors as needed with the course, lead short presentations on student success topics, hold office hours, and participate in activities with the students in the course. Peer mentors receive plenty of training and materials to help them succeed in this role. Marnie describes being a peer mentor as “really a great experience.”

In her free time, Marnie likes to exercise. She is avid about fitness, and sees working out as her time to relax and unwind.

Marnie has some advice for people considering pursuing a degree in a STEM field: “I think sometimes the STEM field can be a bit intimidating to people because they think it's too hard for them to do, but welcome the challenge with open arms. I can assure you that it is extremely worth it and you will find some really great people within the field as well.”

 

Brooke Wiese, UNI STEM Graduate Assistant
Posted: 02-28-19

Earn to Learn at Lakeside Lab

Students participating in one of Lakeside Lab’s courses (2017)

Are you pursuing a degree in ecology, environmental science, or a related field? Looking for a way to get college credit, and build skills through experience, while still making money? Consider applying for Iowa Lakeside Laboratory’s Earn to Learn Internship.

Iowa Lakeside Laboratory is a field station shared by the University of Northern Iowa, Iowa State University, and the University of Iowa. It offers a variety of hands-on science classes and research opportunities to undergraduate students, as well as programs for experimental learning for students of all ages. The Earn to Learn Internship in particular is the result of a partnership between the Okoboji Protective Association (OPA) and the Clean Water Alliance – Water Quality Commission grant.

The Earn to Learn Internship is a great way to earn money and gain college credit over the summer. The internship includes a 4-week course, for which students will receive 4 hours of credit with the University of Northern Iowa, meaning there is no need to worry about whether or not the credit will transfer over.

When not in class, interns will do work related to the internship, such as aquatic invasive species control. Interns will make $10/hour working 40 hours a week for 8-10 weeks. The exact start and end dates are negotiable, but generally the internship will run from mid-May to early August.

There are two rounds of applications, and candidates not selected in the first round may still be considered during the second. However, if you are interested in applying, you may want to hurry. The deadline for the first round of applications is March 1st. The second round is due April 1st.

To apply, email a cover letter, a resume or CV, a statement of career interest and goals, unofficial transcripts, and a letter of recommendation to the Lakeside Lab Director, Mary Skopec, at Mary-Skopec@uiowa.edu. For more information, visit https://iowalakesidelab.org/.

 

Brooke Wiese, UNI STEM Graduate Assistant
Posted: 02-21-19

UNI, GO Be Creative


Creativity is not limited to any one specific field. No matter the career path a student takes, creative ideas and solutions will always be valuable. UNI Panthers of all majors, students and faculty both, have the opportunity to show off their creative thinking by entering the UNIGO Video Competition. Inspired by OK GO’s upcoming performance at the GBPAC, this contest is open to all UNI groups and departments who want to register a team. The suggested size is 3 to 4 people, but there is no limit.

OK GO is a band famous for their quirky and creative music videos. They often utilize technology, like treadmills in the famous 2006 video for “Here It Goes Again,” to perform complex routines or add interesting elements to their videos. The 2016 video for “Upside Down & Inside Out” featured the band singing and performing various actions in microgravity. The videos often feature long, one-take shots, but students entering the UNIGO competition will not be required to produce their short (15 seconds to 2 minute) videos in a single shot, nor will they be expected to. Rod Library staff created their own video (https://youtu.be/1GNtPRj310c) which they hope will encourage groups across campus to participate.

Using a Ramps & Pathways kit (provided) and any custom props of the groups’ choice, students and faculty alike will embark on creating a video representative of their group and inspired by the videos of OK GO. The videos must include movement. Teams will only have 3 hours to create and film, but do not worry. Teams can contact the Regent's Center for Early Developmental Education (https://regentsctr.uni.edu/) to schedule a time to practice prior to their actual build time, and teams can edit their videos up until midnight, Friday, April 12, 2019, which is the time by which videos must have been shared with the judges.

Other resources will also be offered. Teams can use phones to film, or they can get a camera on loan from the UNI Production House. If they want to use a green screen or get technological advice, the Digital Media Hub will provide assistance. The Free Sound Project (https://freesound.org/) is suggested for finding music or sound effects.

The winning team will receive four free tickets to OK GO’s performance and selected videos will be played in the lobby of the GBPAC before the concert.

Find additional information and register your team at https://stemed.uni.edu/unigo. The time leader will receive additional instructions and can apply for a build time during the week of April 2nd. The event is sponsored by the Iowa Regents’ Center for Early Developmental Education, Rod Library, STEM at UNI, and Gallagher Bluedorn.

 

Brooke Wiese, UNI STEM Graduate Assistant
Posted: 02-14-19

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