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IWU Professor On Quest To Increase Diversity, Promote Inclusivity In Science

Illinois Wesleyan University's Professor of Chemistry, Becky Roesner
Illinois Wesleyan University's Professor of Chemistry, Becky Roesner

Women and members of underrepresented groups are at a disadvantage in STEM fields across the globe.

Currently the American Chemical Society’s membership is only about 2% black, and 4% Latino or Hispanic. When you look at the STEM field itself, the hierarchical ladder of management in chemistry is mostly male.

Becky Roesner, chair and professor of chemistry at Illinois Wesleyan University, is on a mission to combat these disparities. She recently earned the Stanley C. Israel Regional Award for Advancing Diversity in the Chemical Sciences for her work furthering diversity and inclusivity.

Speaking on GLT’s Sound Ideas, she explained that the complex reasons for these disparities come from early influences in the education system.

“Part of it is what happens before young people reach the higher education area, different systematic disadvantages and biases that disproportionately impact women and members of underrepresented groups when they're going through school, in terms of encouragement, mentoring, resources that they have,” Roesner said.

She noted that at Illinois Wesleyan, one problem is that they’re mixing students from all different backgrounds, which can be overwhelming for some students.

“And for students who maybe haven't had all the science opportunities in high school, either because they weren't available to them, or they didn't see themselves doing it, or their mentors didn't see themselves doing it, it can be pretty overwhelming to be in a classroom where it feels like the other students know this already, and have done all this before,” she said.

In 2014, the university started the Summer Program for Leadership Inquiry and Campus Engagement (SPLICE). The weeklong summer program offers a group of disadvantaged students a chance to experience the science department.

Illinois Wesleyan also partnered with Illinois State and Heartland Community College to start the NexSTEM scholarship program. It gives students in central Illinois with high financial need up to $10,000 a year in financial aid for four years of working on their bachelor's degree in STEM.

Programs like that can reduce the disparities. And that’s important, Roesner said, because “when we broaden the group of people who are thinking about what problems to tackle next, I think we can have some major breakthroughs.”

You can also listen to the full interview.

GLT's full interview with Roesner.

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Amina Jinadu is a social media and online writing intern at WGLT and a student at Illinois State University's School of Communication. She began working at WGLT in summer 2019.
Ryan Denham is the content director for WGLT and WCBU.