UCSD Jacobs School of Engineering

oSTEM earns Chapter of the Year award

San Diego, Calif., Jan. 6, 2020 -- Just three years after it was founded, UC San Diego’s chapter of oSTEM — Out in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics — was awarded the Chapter of the Year designation at the oSTEM Annual Conference in Detroit. oSTEM is an LGBTQIA+ affirming organization that aims to provide services and support for students in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics and to create a dynamic network between students and professionals in industry and academia. They were selected from among more than 90 university chapters across the country.

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Students from UC San Diego's oSTEM chapter receive the Chapter of the Year award.

The UC San Diego chapter was recognized for its growth in membership and the quality of programs it provides to students. In addition to hosting talks from LGBTQIA+ industry leaders and faculty, oSTEM organizes a mentorship program for LGBTQIA+ students in STEM fields and runs biweekly study and social sessions. The group plans to hold a science fair for high school students this spring and is hosting the first Western Regional oSTEM Conference in 2020.

“Over the past year we started becoming more involved on campus, participating with diversity organizations across the university,” said Andrew Ecker, a third year chemistry student and the current president of oSTEM at UC San Diego. oSTEM is affiliated with the IDEA Engineering Student Center, as well as the LGBT Resource Center, Jacobs School of Engineering, and the Division of Physical Sciences. “Working with these groups has been really great as we continue to learn to navigate campus and provide programs for our students.”

oSTEM’s mentorship program, called Qtorship, matches underclass students with an upperclass student in a similar major. The mentors form friendships with the mentees and provide advice for everything from professional development to more personal issues.

Their “Quoffee Time” biweekly study sessions provide a space for students in the LGBTQIA+ community to feel comfortable bringing their whole selves to their academics. oSTEM provides tutors and snacks to aid in the studying process.

“There’s not really a lot of organizations or even visibility for the intersection of the LGBT and STEM communities,” said Mische Holland, former oSTEM vice president and fourth year biochemistry student with minors in computer science and music. “I really like the idea that oSTEM allows you to be both queer and in STEM, celebrating both identities instead of forcing you to choose one over another.”

“That’s what attracted me to oSTEM versus other queer organizations — there are a lot of social organizations at the LGBT Resource Center, but oSTEM was a good intersection of me wanting to immerse myself in the LGBT community while still focusing on pursuing my STEM degree.”

Ecker said the Annual Conference is also a highlight for a lot of members. This year, the UC San Diego chapter was able to send 11 members to the conference in Detroit, thanks to gifts from several departments and donors.

“The biggest thing our members took out of the conference was visibility, which was the theme of the conference this year,” Ecker said. “For some, it was the first time they went to a conference as their authentic selves, embracing their identity instead of hiding it. That was so great.”

Holland agrees that the conference is a unique opportunity for oSTEM members to feel comfortable digging deep into both their academic pursuits and their personal identities.

“The conference is really unique compared to other conferences, because a lot of the oSTEM Conference is focused on the intersection of being queer and being in STEM, which is not a focus in any other conference necessarily — most are really focused on the science,” said Holland. “But oSTEM has all these workshops structured around topics like ‘Let’s talk about these intersections in different ways.’ So going to that conference in particular is a very affirming and validating experience for people who don’t necessarily get to talk about these intersections in their day-to-day life.”

Jesse Jokerst, a professor of nanoengineering at the UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering and faculty advisor to the organization, said he’s been very impressed with the oSTEM student leaders responsible for the group’s growth and effectiveness.

In order to further achieve their mission of supporting LGBTQIA+ students in STEM, the group plans to organize a science fair for high school students to be held on campus this spring. The idea is to create visibility for these high school students before they head to college, so future Tritons know there is a whole community of LGBTQIA+ people pursuing STEM degrees.

“oSTEM has been great for both my personal and professional development. It is definitely my favorite community,” Ecker said. “It’s a home outside of my home. I know I can go to my GBMs or Board Meetings or Quoffee Time and it’s a safe space.”

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