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DATE: Monday, October 1, 2018

Western Mass. community colleges partner on Oct. 24 event for women in STEM

HCC alumna Michelle Rame '17

The four community colleges in western Massachusetts are spearheading a regional effort to connect female community college students with professional women working in science, technology, engineering and mathematics – STEM – fields.

Registration is now open for the event, which is scheduled for Oct. 24,  from 5-8 p.m., at the UMass Center at Springfield. The event is free except for a $5 parking fee at the Tower Square garage.

The STEM Starter Academies at Holyoke, Springfield Technical, Berkshire, and Greenfield community colleges, along with the Society of Women Engineers affiliate at STCC, are sponsoring the networking workshop they call #MySTEMStory. Organizers hope the event will help build a network for Pioneer Valley women in STEM.

The Oct. 24 gathering will feature a panel discussion and Q&A led by mechanical engineer Prasha Sarwate Dutra, a quality manager in a manufacturing facility in Rhode Island. She hosts a website and podcast called "Her STEM Story" to inspire women to pursue careers in STEM. 

Holyoke Community College alumna Michelle Rame '17, a mechanical engineering major and STEM Scholar at HCC now studying at Western New England University, will be part of the panel, representing the voice of  undergraduate women in STEM.

"Michelle is one of our stars," said Melissa Paciulli, HCC STEM project administrator, and one of the organizers of the event. 

Also on the panel will be a student studying STEM at the graduate level and a STEM-industry professional. 

Beth McGinnis-Cavanaugh, a physics and engineering professor at STCC and faculty advisor to the college's SWE chapter, said #MySTEMStory creates a unique opportunity to connect STEM students and professionals.

"This will be an opportunity for professionals to inspire the next wave of STEM women by sharing their stories about successes, challenges, motivation and persistence in the STEM fields," McGinnis-Cavanaugh said. "We encourage professional women from any STEM field to join us."

McGinnis-Cavanaugh said many of her students have never met a professional woman working in the male-dominated world of STEM.

"Many of our students enrolled in STEM programs are lower-income or first-generation college students with backgrounds that simply don't afford them access," McGinnis-Cavanaugh said. "They don't have necessary, meaningful connections to professional role models. We thought a networking event would be a wonderful way to help them make those connections. The women who are studying today at STCC, HCC, GCC and BCC are the future of the STEM workforce. We need to do all we can to provide the peer and professional support that will help them persist and succeed."

According to the United States Department of Commerce's Women in STEM: 2017 Update, women filled 47 percent of all U.S. jobs in 2015, but held only 24 percent of STEM jobs. Undergraduate degrees are evenly divided between men and women, but women only make up about 30 percent of all STEM degrees.

"The vision we have for #MySTEMStory is to provide a place that will bring together STEM students, professionals and academics to help support, mentor and raise each other up," Paciulli said. "Being a woman in STEM can bring unique challenges, and students are going to have the opportunity to meet women who have learned how to navigate pathways to success." 

Geraldine de Berly, vice president of academic affairs and chief academic officer at STCC, said the networking event reflects the college's focus on encouraging and nurturing women to excel in the STEM fields.

"I applaud the faculty and staff at the community colleges for their work in putting this important event together," de Berly said. "As the statistics show, women are underrepresented in STEM classrooms and related industries. We hope that #MySTEMStory inspires students and shows them they can pursue rewarding careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics after graduation."  

Alysha Putnam, STEM Special Programs coordinator at Greenfield Community College, said the #MySTEMStory event provides area community college women an opportunity to access knowledge to help them grow and develop.

"We become inspired, motivated and encouraged when we know that others like us have gone out and done it before," Putnam said.

Connie West of the Berkshire Community College STEM Starter Academy is excited for the opportunity to elevate the conversation about the importance of women exploring STEM fields in higher education.  

"It is important, especially in Western Mass., to increase access and opportunities for women to go into careers in the STEM field, and every opportunity we have as educators to highlight this with our students will hopefully yield meaningful outcomes in the future STEM workforce for our region," she said.

To register, visit Hors d'oeuvres will be served and a cash bar will be available. For more information, contact Beth McGinnis-Cavanaugh (, Melissa Paciulli ( or Alysha Putnam (

PHOTOS: (Top) HCC alumna and STEM Scholar Michelle Rame '17, now a student at Western New England University, will be a panelist at an Oct. 24 networking workshop for women in STEM fields. (Thumbnail) Rame works with a Holyoke High School student on a summer STEM project.