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Making an impact in the LGBTQA STEM community Students share ideas for positive change at national conference

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11 December 2015

Members of the Penn State oSTEM chapter with their award for highest member attendance at the national conference.  Image: Copyright Levana Melamed Photography
Members of the Penn State oSTEM chapter with their award for highest member attendance at the national conference. Image: Copyright Levana Melamed Photography
A group of 20 students from the Penn State chapter of Out in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (oSTEM) attended the organization’s fifth annual national conference, held Nov. 13-15 in Pittsburgh, to discuss with peers and professionals their vision for creating a more diverse STEM community.

The conference brought together students and professionals from across the country in the interest of professional development and the creation of safe and inviting places to study and work in STEM fields.

Some of this year’s topics included mentoring young women in STEM, advancing LGBT inclusion in the intelligence community, and developing an action plan for K-12 STEM outreach.

The Penn State chapter of oSTEM was honored with an award for having the highest member attendance of the 63 colleges and universities that were represented at the conference.

Eric Patridge, president of the national oSTEM organization, was happy to see so many Penn State students at the event.

“Earlier this year, Campus Pride named Penn State a top 25 LGBTQ-friendly school. It is obvious that Penn State oSTEM members are working diligently to improve the LGBTQ environment at Penn State, including enhancing policies, programs and practices and ensuring that current and prospective students feel welcome,” he said.

A 2009 Penn State alumnus, Patridge co-founded Penn State’s oSTEM chapter when he was a student at the University.

Christina Platt, electrical engineering junior and Penn State oSTEM public relations officer, co-chaired this year’s conference.

“I attended my first national oSTEM conference last year but I didn’t expect to get so drawn in to the organization,” said Platt. “Everyone was so welcoming and friendly, and it was exciting to be around other students who were so actively involved in the LGBTQA initiatives on their campuses.”

While diversity was a key focus of the conference, there were also opportunities for participants to share their STEM expertise. Platt hosted a session titled “Hackathons: Uniting Creativity & Technology” during which she discussed the history, benefits and outcomes of “hacking marathons,” as well as issues within the hackathon community relating to minority participation. Penn State oSTEM president and chemical engineering graduate student Pengfei Zhan, materials science and engineering graduate student Jason Chan, astrophysics and physics undergraduate student Alex Brown, and biological anthropology undergraduate student Heather Self presented research posters during the conference.

Zhan noted that more graduate students have joined the Penn State oSTEM chapter, which includes about 120 members, this year.

“It’s a great opportunity to build mentoring relationships among LGBTQA faculty, graduate students and undergraduates and expand your professional network,” he said.

Allison Subasic, director of Penn State’s LGBTQA Student Resource Center and oSTEM adviser, was thrilled with the students’ participation this year.

“oSTEM has been a very active group at Penn State since Eric Patridge started it. I was so happy to see this year’s group won the participation award, and I am proud of the involvement from our students being represented in these fields. STEM fields still are highly non-diverse, and it is through national groups such as these that changes are beginning to be made in many fields,” she said.

Students who are interested in learning more about the Penn State chapter may contact Zhan at ostempennstate@gmail.com or visit the chapter’s website.

A national society built by students, for students in 2005, Out in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics is dedicated to educating and fostering leadership for LGBTQA communities in the STEM fields. Today there are more than 50 chapters across the country.

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