NYU Tandon Making Herstory

With a Record Number of Women in the Class of 2020, Tandon Continues to Take Strides Towards Gender Equity and Inclusion

Participants of the Sixth Annual Women in STEM Summit

NYU Tandon's continued efforts to bridge the gender gap in STEM fields are paying off — last year 37 percent of Tandon freshman were women, the highest percentage in Tandon history, and well above the national average.

Three recent events took place on campus that demonstrate how Tandon attracts young women to the field and supports them on their journey to successful careers: 

Women at the Summit

When Dean Katepalli Sreenivasan welcomed the audience at the packed MakerSpace exhibition room for the Celebration of STEM Women Inspiring Innovation, a festive tribute to the female members of NYU Tandon’s faculty, he invoked the memory of Brooklyn native Mildred S. Dresselhaus, a pioneering researcher known for her seminal contributions to carbon science. Dresselhaus — the first woman ever to become a full, tenured professor at MIT and the first woman to win the National Medal of Science in Engineering — had died the previous month, and the Dean explained that her longstanding commitment to advancing gender equity in STEM is reflected in Tandon’s own ethos and should serve as an inspiration to all as the school welcomes increasing numbers of aspiring women engineers into the ranks of its classes. 

The faculty tribute was just one event in the daylong Sixth Annual Women in STEM Summit, which had as its overarching theme the use of technology in service to society (which has become a benchmark of Tandon) and how women can contribute to that mission. Held on March 2 and organized by the Office of Student Affairs, the Summit kicked off with an inclusive morning meeting aimed at emphasizing to male students the importance of being an “ally” in the classroom and workplace.

The day also featured an afternoon panel session introduced by NYU Provost Katherine E. Fleming, who received resounding applause when she affirmed NYU’s strong commitment to renovating 500,000 square feet of space at 370 Jay St. — as well as chuckles of empathy when she related that a clueless male driver had once initially refused to let her in the car because he was “waiting for the provost,” as if that high-level job was reserved solely for males.

The panel consisted of Industry Assistant Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering Matt Campisi, who is active in developing technologies to advance women’s health in the developing world; Professor of Computer Science and Engineering Phyllis Frankl, who is at the forefront of Tandon’s efforts to attract women to STEM; and Kristen Graf, the Executive Director of Women of Wind Energy (WoWE), a group that aims to support and encourage women working in the field of renewable energy. Moderated by Associate Dean of Student Affairs Anita Farrington, the three discussed the creativity and broader perspective possible in gender diverse teams and gave practical advice to female students who might be intimidated by their male counterparts. (“Don’t be afraid to speak out,” Frankl stressed, “Get your hands up in class and ask any questions you have.”)

Students received more one-on-one advice later in the day at the Celebration of STEM Women Inspiring Innovation opened by Sreenivasan. Tables were arranged so that the female professors in attendance sat not on a dais but scattered among the attendees. Associate Dean for Bioengineering and Professor of Biochemistry and Bioengineering Mary Cowman, who presided over one of the tables, noted that research is becoming increasingly interdisciplinary and dependent upon good working relationships among scientists. “Be respectful, open-minded, and inquisitive,” she advised. “Although women are good at evincing respect, open-mindedness, and inquisitiveness, none of those qualities are confined solely to one gender or the other. Maybe one day soon, we won’t even need summits aimed at encouraging gender diversity and equity; we’ll just be able to take it for granted.”

Celebrating High School Women’s Achievements 

On Friday, March 3, NYU Tandon School of Engineering hosted the university’s local academic affiliate, the National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT) Award for Aspirations in Computing (AiC) ceremony, which recognized high school women from across the New York area for their achievements in computing and technology. The NCWIT AiC Award celebrated the students’ demonstrated leadership and academic achievements in computing and technology, and welcomed the award winners to NCWIT’s national network of women leaders, professionals, and academics. Jamie Adler, NCWIT Director of Interface Process & Architecture for Aspirations in Computing kicked off the evening by asking the students, “Why are you here?” As they embark on their academic and professional futures, potentially at NYU Tandon, Adler expressed her excitement about the future of STEM that includes women and diverse teams “working towards finding diverse, innovative solutions.” Adler emphasized NCWIT’s commitment towards helping the young women on their path towards college and towards a career path in computing and tech. “You’re here, you’re succeeding and achieving with your interest in computing,” Adler said. “Be proud of what you’ve done to get here.” The evening continued with a presentation by Victoria Bill, director of the NYU MakerSpace, who congratulated the students and their families. “As a woman and an engineer, I’m really excited to see you all here, and I was really impressed reading all of your backgrounds,” Bill said, who demonstrated all the unique projects NYU students create in the MakerSpace, and encouraged the young award winners that they too can create innovative products using 3D printers, laser cutters, and arduinos. After each student received her award on stage, the winners and their families celebrated their success with a tour of the MakerSpace and a reception in their honor.

Make Noise, Be Confident: Women Entrepreneurs Share Advice

“You need to make noise. We live in a biased world. People will not hear you the same as a male entrepreneur.” Ya-El Mandel-Portnoy, founder of Cardea Sciences, shared this sentiment with the audience at the March 6 Path to Entrepreneurship panel. Though the sexism women face in both STEM and entrepreneurial positions is disheartening, Mandel-Portnoy and her fellow panelists, Sarah Maibach and Bertha Jimenez, all agreed that trusting in oneself, building up a positive support base, and not being sidetracked by naysayers are essential for women entering into male-dominated fields. The panel, hosted by the Convergence of Innovation and Entrepreneurship Institute, was moderated by MakerSpace director Victoria Bill and offered advice for women seeking STEM and entrepreneur paths, and covered topics like networking and learning from failure. Mandel-Portnoy emphasized to the young women in the audience to look at failure as merely a “bump in the road” towards their goals, and encouraged them to be prepared when networking and to “make sure that people listen to you.” Maibach, program manager at the NYU Entrepreneurial Institute, echoed Mandel-Portnoy’s advice on networking, adding that it’s equally important to not only find those who can help you, but determine how you can help others. Jimenez, the co-founder of RISE and a doctoral graduate from NYU Tandon, advised students to join clubs and organizations to create partnerships and a sounding board for ideas. In her closing remarks, Bill shared with the audience one strategy for success is “knowing your work, and being confident in being able to show your work.”