Somerville High School Hosts First Women in STEM Summit on October 1, 2018

On Monday, October 1st Somerville High School held its first Women in STEM Summit in the SHS Library from 3:00 – 5:30pm. The idea for this event came from Kenia Arbaiza, an SHS Senior who participated in SET in the City, offered by the Boston Area Girls STEM Collaborative. Kenia was interested in bringing the same experience to her classmates at SHS. Over the past two months, she worked to plan the event with SHS Junior Laura Clervil, Physics Teacher Michael Friedman, Science Student Teacher Claire Mahoney, and the SPS Volunteer Program. 

women in stem summit

The event kicked off with an engineering ice-breaker challenge (and flying marshmallows) and then featured inspiring keynote speaker Donna Levin, Executive Director of Innovation and Entrepreneurship at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI), social entrepreneur and co-founder of, and Senior Lecturer at MIT Sloan School of Management. As a woman working in computer sciences—at a time when this field had very few women, and particularly women of color—Ms. Levin touched on several factors that helped her along her path to learning about and succeeding in a STEM field. Among them: finding and having at least one person in her corner who believed in her abilities and told her so; being resourceful and finding ways to both work and attend college; learning how to "Fail Up," (learning from mistakes and being willing to change); believing in and learning how to "claim the space" (owning her space in any room, even when surrounded by males); and always being true to her interests and passions. Ms. Levin’s parting wisdom for high school students wishing to pursue STEM, or any profession they care about was to "find positive people in your life who help you see the possibilities."

The event then featured several local women working or studying in a wide variety of STEM fields. Panelists included professionals working in architecture and planning, chemical, research and mechanical engineering, youth media technology and education, technology project management, biology, neuroscience, and applied mathematics research with a focus on improving gender and other diversity in STEM.   

Women panelists shared how they got started in their careers, what drove them to pursue STEM, hurdles they’ve faced both in the workplace and at home, and advice they’d give to their high school selves. Some of the notable takeaways and advice included: show up and speak up; demand a seat at the table and make good use of it; advocate for other women AND for yourself; face your fears with creativity; learn how to write and speak effectively about science; advocate for yourself—for time, wages, benefits, and more; don’t sweat the grades too much; don’t worry that you have no idea about what you want to do in high school or in college or after; follow your interests but try new things; pursue internships and experiences rather than just grades; and find good role models in your community with whom to network.   

women in stem image

SHS students participated in Q & A, and then small group discussions with panelists about their experiences and pursuing STEM careers. Panelists shared contact information, providing an excellent networking opportunity for students interested in learning about and pursuing STEM careers. Plans are already underway for supporting Kenia and students to plan and host a Spring STEM event.      

Somerville Public Schools and the SHS Science Department extends appreciation to keynote speaker Donna Levin of WPI, and the following community volunteers for their thoughtful and thought-provoking words, and helpful participation: Emily Grandstaff-Rice, Stani Iordanova, Rosemary Kanasty, Dr. Rebecca Masterson, Faylís Matos, Heather McCormack, Sarah Nzikoba, Amy Beth Prager, Beth Villareal, Gaby Waldman-Fried, and Tiffany Wang. 

Special thanks to SHS Library and Librarian Kathleen Ross, the SHS Broadcast Club and Braden Moriarty, the SHS Robotics Team, Somerville and parent volunteer Donene Williams, and Ward 5 School Committee member Laura Pitone.

We would love to keep the Women in STEM momentum alive at SHS and throughout the community! If you are interested in promoting Women in STEM or helping to raise funds for the SHS Robotics Team, SHS is selling STEMinist and Empower t-shirts for faculty, staff, students, and community members. Please see the order form below for pictures of the t-shirt designs, along with ordering and payment information.