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Researchers from UT, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and other high-level facilities came together recently for the first Women in STEM Symposium at UT.

Claudia Rawn
Claudia Rawn

The free full-day professional conference included discussions, question-and-answer sessions, and poster contests, all designed to help women find increased opportunities in science, technology, engineering and math.

Claudia Rawn, director of UT’s Center for Materials Processing, gave the keynote address.

Rawn was recently made an ASM International Fellow, one of the highest honors in her field. An expert in materials science, Rawn shared some insights gleaned from her own experiences in a male-dominated field.

“Study after study has shown that ability is the same between men and women in STEM fields, but confidence levels and interest differ,” Rawn told the crowd. “The numbers of women in particular areas in STEM are growing, but they are still pretty dismal—around 20 percent in computer science, physics, and most engineering disciplines as well.”

However, Rawn, a professor of materials science at UT, said studies show that female students seem to choose specific scholastic and career paths because of what they want to do, while their male counterparts have a much higher incidence of making those choices because they think it is expected of them.

In doing so, women seem to have a correspondingly higher rate of sticking with those choices.

Still, Rawn pointed out, challenges remain—ranging from pay inequality to concerns about family life—and society needs to approach those as family issues, not just women’s issues.

She reminded students that UT can help them find academic, social, and moral support.

“Reach out when you need to,” said Rawn. “There are things in place to help you. UT wants you to succeed, I promise you.”

Colleen Iversen, of ORNL’s Climate Change Science Institute, participated in the panel discussion, which also included UT leadership, faculty, and staff, as well as women in STEM fields from local industry.

The questions, which were developed by the student participants, were on topics ranging from increased representation of women in STEM to finding mentors and overcoming bias and discrimination.

Iversen said that students and STEM professionals alike learned from their participation in the panel. She added that programs like the symposium “foster the mutually supportive communities needed by women in STEM, decrease a sense of isolation, and contribute to greater confidence for the next generation of excellent women STEM researchers.”


David Goddard (865-974-0683,