Writing about women in interdisciplinary research (IDR) at Virginia Tech and specifically VTSuN is a joy. As a young program, the origin history is intact and many of the individuals are still here at VT and active on campus. In my daily experience VTSuN—the research center—and VTSuN—the Interdisciplinary Graduate Education Program (IGEP) —are inextricably linked and for this I have the Dean to thank! In grad student speak, “the Dean” almost always refers to Vice President & Dean of Graduate Education Dr. Karen DePauw. A champion of interdisplinary graduate education, Dean DePauw has overseen the creation of new IGEP’s (there are now 14 of them) and also developed the Transformative Graduate Education (TGE) initiative.
Near the bottom of the TGE webpage there is mention of the Interdisplinary Research Honor Society (IDR), the first interdisciplinary research student organization in the nation (and perhaps the world). The founding members of the society not only include Dean DePauw but also our very own Associate Director Dr. Marina (Nina) Vance! In the VTSuN ranks we can also count a former IDR President, Dr. Carol Johnson. The story would not be complete without mentioning that the new Associate Dean and Director of Interdisciplinary Graduate Education in the Graduate School, is our very own Dr. Amy Pruden.
However, I must temper this celebration by saying that women are not always sent the message that they belong in STEM and at times the message is subtle:
— ICTAS VT (@ICTASVT) February 12, 2015
Café X is the main conference room in our building (Kelly Hall) and Institute (ICTAS). About seven posters are on the wall and each contains a quote and image of an important university employee. As you can tell from the image, the posters are hard to miss. On February 12, the day I sent the tweet, we were having a lab meeting with our distinguished guest Dr. Cathy Murphy, from the University of Illinois. Suddenly I realized that all the images were of men. None were like me. I immediately tweeted at ICTAS; it was the only action I could take in the moment (a meeting). Although I am a bit embarrassed that it took me so long to notice that having only images of men was a problem and that I tweeted during a meeting, the fact that I was the first person to notice the problem was heartbreaking. In my own work space, I could see how stereotypes and culture were so internalized that no one else had complained or registered the issue of representation.