The Graduate School at Penn State is full of thousands of students with varying backgrounds, interests and degree goals. Students bond over those differences and similarities, often coming together in successful organizations. One of those groups is Graduate Women in Science (GWIS).
The State College chapter of GWIS is part of a larger national organization with a mission to build a global community to inspire, support, recognize and empower women in science. That larger group is full of 20 active chapters with over a 90-year history.
For Penn State chapter president, Holly Kleinschmidt, a doctoral student studying biochemistry, microbiology and molecular biology, being part of the GWIS organization means being part of a community.
“The thing that I’ve benefited most from being a part of GWIS is having a community here on campus outside of my lab and my department,” she said. “It’s really nice to see other graduate students that are not necessarily in your program and hear about their experiences. In general, graduate students share many challenges, so having this huge community that are all going through kind of the same thing but have different perspectives and resources is really helpful.”
The organization, open to any graduate student at Penn State, has no formal membership process, no fee, and is open to anyone that is willing to support the mission.
“The last few years we really made a very conscientious effort to pull in people from a lot of different programs,” Kleinschmidt said. “We have members studying earth and mineral sciences, math, statistics, chemistry, engineering, and really people from programs all across the board.”
Opportunities with GWIS
For those in the organization, there are many ways to be involved. The group holds professional development and personal development events for its current members, with past events including a budgeting for graduate students presentation, resume workshops, and a visit to a local biotech company. It also holds an annual networking and professional development conference called the Empower Conference each February that brings in scientists to talk about their experiences, schedule social events to help members get to know each other and have fun, and form committees to discuss topics like diversity, equity, and inclusion on campus.
This summer the Penn State GWIS chapter will also have the chance to make a larger impact on the group’s national organization. Each year a different chapter hosts the national conference, and this year, Penn State is taking a turn as host.
“We are excited to have the opportunity to showcase Penn State, and a lot of Penn State faculty and graduate students will be speaking on panels and hosting workshops. It will be nice to have members from other GWIS chapters visit us,” Kleinschmidt said.
Supporting the next generation
As the Penn State GWIS group continues to bond and provide a support system and guidance for each other and other graduate students, they continue to aim to be more than just that.
Kleinschmidt said it is important to the group to not only develop and assist the program’s members, but also girls and women that could be in the members’ shoes someday. Those programs include everything from "Grad School 101" for undergraduate students to learn more about graduate school, to reaching out and working with young girls in the community to help grow their love and interest in science.
“It’s really fun doing outreach, especially with younger kids, but even older kids as well,” Kleinschmidt said. “Leading a scientific activity with kids is exciting. It helps motivate us as graduate students, seeing the spark that all of us felt as kids, but in a broader sense feeling like you are making a difference by making science accessible and fun and showing the girls someone that looks like them.
“When I was a kid, it was kind of rare to see women in science. We heard of Bill Nye the Science Guy and Neil Degrasse Tyson, but there wasn't a lot of women to look to,” she added. “Doing outreach provides younger girls with local examples of people in their community that look like them and are doing science, which can make science seem more accessible when they’re looking to make career decisions.”
Penn State students that have made that career choice to explore the sciences and are interested in joining GWIS, or students that just want to support the mission, can learn more at the group’s website and reach out to Kleinschmidt directly at firstname.lastname@example.org to join the group’s email list.