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    Photo Alexis Ess

    August 04, 2020

    Unleashing Our Stempower

    Alexis Ess ’22 and Jesenya Olivas ’23 are true digital natives. They have never known a world in which the internet did not provide people with instant access to, well, nearly anything. That has shaped not only their understanding of the world, but of what they want their place in it to be, namely, leaders in the field of technology. Both Ess and Olivas are deeply aware of the threats inherent in tech today, from ransomware to identity theft to so-called phising attacks. The cybersecurity majors plan to dedicate their careers to ensuring that technology is safe for everyone to use, from individuals online at home to employees at the world’s large corporations. They understand that as good technology advances, so does the bad. For Ess it is as simple as this: “I want to keep people safe.”

    An innovative new program called Stempower may aid her in doing just that.

    Founded by Le Moyne alumna Terri Mitchell ’85
    and Director of the Office of Career Advising and Development Meredith Tornabene, Stempower helps women who are studying science, technology, engineering or math, like Ess and Olivas, build a sense of community, increase their self-confidence and find their career paths. For Mitchell, the enterprise is deeply personal. She spent three decades working in information technology before retiring at vice president, IBM. In that time, she grew increasingly concerned about the dearth of women in the field. (While women hold approximately 47 percent of the nation’s jobs, they hold just 24 percent of the STEM jobs.) Since her retirement in 2018, she has dedicated herself to ensuring that the next generation of women will be able to avail themselves of opportunities to become leaders in the STEM arena, and to learn about everything from business etiquette to confidence and self-promotion to risk, reward, and resiliency.

    “It as simple as this: Women need role models in their field,” she said. “They need to make connections and hear the stories of others. Mentors provide them with support and guidance on everything from which classes they should take to which internships they should consider pursuing. They model the resilience that is needed in college by demonstrating their ability to handle challenges and setbacks.”

    Not surprisingly, mentorship is now a key component of Stempower. Freshmen and second-year students work closely with a member of the junior or senior class who is trustworthy, available and invested in their success. In addition to the mentorship they receive from other students, they also work closely with world-class scholars who also care deeply about them, and take advantage of opportunities outside of the classroom to engage in personal and professional development.  Ess said the program has help her “to learn and grow in ways I could not possibly have imagined.”

    The program is already having a significant impact. An overwhelming majority of participants in the pilot program reported that Stempower bolstered their sense of belonging to a community and contributed to their confidence in their future. They cited forming relationships with other women in STEM and learning how to promote themselves professionally among the program’s key benefits, along with being able to work with a strong female mentor. In addition, they enjoyed engaging with a range of employers in the field, including Lockheed Martin, Bristol Myers Squibb and the U.S. Health Service.

    For their part, Mitchell and Tornabene hope that Stempower alumnae will not only enjoy rewarding, meaningful careers, but that they will be able to pay it forward to others in the future. 

    Olivas has already begun to think about how she can do just that. While her immediate goal after graduation is to go to work for an advanced technologies company like Lockheed Martin or for a government entity like the Department of Homeland Security, she would eventually branch off and start her own company or a nonprofit to provide girls in high school with the support and materials they need to achieve their dreams in STEM.

    “Nothing is stronger than when women come together to support one another in their dreams which is why I continue to be a part of Stempower,” she says.



    Category: Student Voices