COSAM News Articles 2020 February Succeed Conference Highlights STEM Paths for Students

Succeed Conference Highlights STEM Paths for Students

Published: 02/25/2020

By: Matt Gonzales

“As a graduate student, I only knew academia,” said Dr. Haruka Wada, associate professor in Biological Sciences, at the Succeed Conference held on February 17th. “I don’t want graduate students to graduate and say, ‘now what?’ Having a degree shouldn’t narrow your opportunities, it should widen them.”

Sponsored by Dr. Wada and the College of Sciences and Mathematics Office of Inclusion, Equity and Diversity, the Succeed Conference’s goal was to show Auburn graduate and undergraduate students that there are varied paths to follow within the fields of STEM. To do so, the conference began with three panel discussions hosting eleven panelists from four different sectors. Specifically, these panelists included Josh Poole, John Trawick and Dr. Yaqi Wang from industry; Rachel Fairbank, Dr. Paul Bergen, Mary Lou Ewald and Dr. Josh Jarrell from science communication, consulting and outreach; Dr. Benjamin Beck and Natasha Alonzo Zimmerman from government; and Dr. Kevin Belanger and Dr. Emily Pauli from healthcare.

During these discussions, students asked questions from how to get one’s foot in the door of industry as an undergraduate to their recommendations on useful skills that they wished they had cultivated earlier in their careers. Bridging the apparent separation between his current position and educational background, John Trawick, Senior Vice President and Chief Administrative Officer of Southern Power, told those in attendance that whereas his job essentially “is about problem-solving,” his degree in mathematics informs how he tackles these problems.

Following the panel discussions, each panelist hosted a smaller, speed-dating style discussion where students had the opportunity to sit down and ask specific questions in a more intimate format. As such, students could home in further on particular aspects of these professionals’ work, working to expand these students’ idea of to where a STEM degree could one day lead. Attendants spoke with four panelists of their choosing, spending 15 minutes with each professional before moving to the next.

After the smaller discussions, the panelists and students were treated to lunch and provided the students with examples of excellent resumes applicable to their field. By doing so, the panelists not only imparted knowledge through discussion but also through concrete applications. Finishing the conference, Dr. Nicholas Giordano, Dean of the College of Sciences and Mathematics, gave the closing address highlighting the importance of the panelists as role models and mentors.

Echoing Dr. Wada’s words, Mary Lou Ewald stated that when she was a graduate student, she had a hard time knowing where to go next. “It’s important to help others understand what is out there.” In the same vein, an undergraduate student who was in attendance said, “You may have an idea of what you want to do, but seeing the panelists’ transitions to other fields was most useful for me.”

Learn more about Rachael Fairbank, a science writer, who participated on a panel and gave students sage advice.

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