Carnegie Mellon University
February 17, 2022

Organizations Address Gender Disparity in Social Sciences

By Stefanie Johndrow

Many Carnegie Mellon University students discover a sense of belonging to their field and build skills they may not learn in the classroom through student-run organizations. Over the years, students in Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences have shaped organizations on campus to foster community and support for marginalized groups in the social sciences.

For decades, the gender gap in STEM disciplines has admitted and retained male students over female and nonbinary students. A diverse body of research suggests social and environmental factors contribute to the underrepresentation of women and other marginalized groups and that the feeling of belonging has a direct impact on retention rates.

Three organizations run by Dietrich College students share the mission of supporting groups that have traditionally been underrepresented across information systems, international security and statistics.

Women in Information Systems

Formed in spring 2020, Women in Information Systems was created in response to a survey sent by Carnegie Mellon University’s Information Systems Program to which students indicated they wanted more opportunities for community building.

Women in Information Systems offers leadership opportunities, workshops and a one-on-one mentor/mentee program that connects students early in their academic journey with an upperclass undergraduate mentor. Social events also take place every semester to give students a chance to get together as a collective. Mentors are required to maintain at least bi-weekly contact with mentees, attend a certain number of events with their mentee and complete an end-of-semester assessment.

Gloria Moon is a junior studying information systems and human-computer interaction (HCI), and she is a lead mentor of Women in Information Systems. As lead mentor, Moon pairs mentors and mentees, with the objective to help the mentee work out their academic and career goals and create community within information systems. She also helps plan social and professional development events hosted by Women in IS.

“My favorite part of being in Women in IS has been trying to get to know as many IS people as possible. I’m trying to get to know the names of everyone in IS, because I recognize them in the halls and at bus stops,” Moon said. “Another very important part is the connection I have with my own mentee. She is the focus of my year, and helping her and being there for her is really nice.”

Moon’s mentee is Alice Hong, a sophomore who transferred to the Information Systems Program last spring.

“I really wanted to meet a lot of upperclassmen, get insight into classes I could take and hear what there is to do in Pittsburgh and what there is to explore at CMU,” Hong said. “Gloria is someone I can talk to. She knows a lot of people, and she’s interested in HCI, which is something I’m interested in, so that’s something we get to talk about a lot.”

Women in International Security

CMU’s chapter of Women in International Security (WIIS) works to “elevate the voices of women, LGBTQIA+ and gender non-conforming persons in the international security space.” Other goals of the organizations include diversifying speakers and programming by committing to intersectionality and reserving platforms for groups traditionally underrepresented in international security, politics and history.

“I think organizations like WIIS bring people together,” said Cristin Connerney, WIIS chapter president. “I think women in particular, we focus on LGBTQ+ and minority groups as well, these groups need to be uplifted and we need to support each other.”

Students who join WIIS find a collective of people who align with their interests, said Connerney, a master’s student studying information technology strategy in the Institute for Politics and Strategy. Since WIIS is a part of a greater international organization, students have diverse opportunities for training and networking, including monthly calls with the other chapters.

“I think it’s really cool to sit in on the global calls, because you get to see what people are doing worldwide, which is something I haven’t seen before,” Connerney said. “You hear about what these other women are doing with their mission to promote international security and for women.”

Connerney is looking forward to the talks Women in International Security has planned for the spring that will cover “topics in the realm of international security and the chance to learn about world news.”

Women in Statistics

Initially an informal support group in the Department of Statistics & Data Science, Women in Statistics (WinS) has grown into a group for Ph.D. students in the department that also has a focus on collaboration. In addition to the resources they provide to undergraduate and graduate students, Women in Statistics helps organize events that give back to the Carnegie Mellon and Pittsburgh communities, including the annual Women in Data Science Pittsburgh @CMU (WiDS) conference and pre-pandemic outreach in local high schools.

“Being in a STEM program at a university, I think that there are certain shared experiences that come with that, and it’s good to be able to have a group of people you can rely on, to relate to and be able to talk through these kinds of things with and have this kind of informal advice network,” said Mikaela Meyer, a Women in Statistics organizer and Ph.D. student in the Department of Statistics & Data Science and Heinz College of Information Systems and Public Policy.

Talking about these shared experiences and knowing you are not alone can be helpful for women and other underrepresented minorities, according to Maya Shen, one of Women in Statistics’ organizers and a Ph.D. student in the Department of Statistics & Data Science.

“One of the main parts of being a part of WinS for me is providing a community,” said Maya Shen. “Ph.D. programs in general are super hard and also being a woman in a in a STEM-focused Ph.D. program can be particularly hard, so having this built-in network of community from the get-go has been really nice and is, I think, a key part of WinS.”

This year, Women in Statistics hopes to restart their mentorship program, which has been open to students of all genders no matter their year or major. To be a mentee, all that is needed is an interest in statistics and data science, and mentors need to have experience in statistics and data science that they want to share. Even when the official mentorship program isn’t running, students in the department can often still find those kinds of relationships.

When Meyer was in the first year of her Ph.D., she went through a time when she doubted her decision to enter the program. After opening up about her struggles during a Women in Statistics event, Meyer found that she wasn’t alone in her experiences and that those people were willing to help her.

“I feel confident saying that the Statistics & Data Science Department at CMU is a very welcoming department, but that still doesn’t mean that at times you don’t have that feeling of ‘Do I belong here?’” Meyer said. “I think organizations such as Women in Statistics and other organizations like it provide the basis of a support network that can help you feel like you belong.”