Women scientists foster community with new club

Women majoring in physics and astronomy at SF State can now easily network with each other, thanks to a new club on campus.

Formed in November 2015 by physics lecturer Dr. Reiko Toriumi, the Women In Physics and Astronomy club was founded to support the community of female physics and astronomy majors within SF State, according to its president, senior Miranda Waters.

“Women tend to be under-represented in the sciences, particularly the hard, physical sciences,” Waters said. “Thankfully, women now make up approximately 50 percent of biology, which is phenomenal, but in terms of numbers, women are still a lower percentage of the people pursuing degrees. SFSU has really fostered equality within the sciences. We’ve got a really strong community and it’s amazing to be a part of it.”

Roughly 40 percent of the undergraduates in physics and astronomy at SF State are women, according to Adrienne Cool, a physics and astronomy professor at SF State. The club, which currently has 22 members, mostly juniors and seniors, is run entirely by students.

Cool, who has been teaching at SF State for 20 years, said that she’s seen a higher percentage of female physics and astronomy majors at SF State than in any other program around the country.

“(The high proportion is something) we’ve always been very happy about, but it’s also something that we realize and believe that we shouldn’t take for granted,” Cool said. “An organization like this is very helpful to continue to support and encourage any women in the field.”

Cool said that she thinks WIPA will make it possible for more students to feel more connected to the other students in the department.

“I think that one can be surprisingly isolated as a student in physics, and making connections really helps you stick with it,” Cool said. “Increasing connections between women at all different stages of their studies at SF State will be really a great thing for students.”

Award-winning planetary scientist Dr. Carolyn Porco speaks about the importance of women in the sciences to the Women in Physics and Astronomy club during their meeting in Thornton Hall 434 at SF State on Monday, April 18, 2016. (George Morin / Xpress)

Award-winning planetary scientist Dr. Carolyn Porco speaks about the importance of women in the sciences to the Women in Physics and Astronomy club during their meeting in Thornton Hall 434 at SF State on Monday, April 18, 2016. (George Morin / Xpress)

When asked if she thought the club has had any impact on the physics and astronomy program, Cool said that although the club is still fairly new, its inception can only help to increase the numbers of women in the department and deepen the connection between its female students.

“They’re already dreaming up all kinds of good things to do,” Cool said. “Right now, they’re trying to identify more of the women in the department who they may not know yet.”

So far, in its five months of existence, the club has been to NASA for a conference, as well as hosted dinner parties at one of the members houses in order to “get closer as actual friends instead of just group members,” said Brittany Redd, the club’s official event coordinator.

Additionally, along with the Women in Science and Engineering program, WIPA brought award-winning planetary scientist Dr. Carolyn Porco to SF State to give a talk Monday, April 18 about Saturn’s moon and its potential to support life. Porco leads the imaging science team on the Cassini-Huygens, a spacecraft currently orbiting Saturn.

“We believe that the only way that equality can actually be achieved in (science education) is to actively promote and support fellow women in the discipline, like bringing fellow female physicists to campus,” Waters said. “Instead of just seeing a bunch of guys lecture on physics, we’re seeing women who are active in these fields pursuing very worthwhile careers in our field.”

Redd also specified that anyone is welcome to join WIPA, regardless of their gender or major.

“We want to make it clear that men are definitely invited to join our club,” Redd said. “It’s not just for women in physics and astronomy, it’s also for the support of women in physics and astronomy. They’re capable of doing anything that anyone else is capable of doing.”

Any students interested in becoming involved in the club can check out their Facebook page for updates on meetings and events.

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