oSTEM aims to help LGBTQ members
A new student group oSTEM (Out in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) held its first meeting Thursday night in an effort to attract members of the LGBTQ community in the science field who may be looking for support.
The group aims to provide LGBTQ students with a nurturing environment while entering a field some feel is discriminatory, said Jackie Alencewicz, co-president of the organization.
“It’s going to help you while you’re an undergrad, so when you are a graduate, you don’t say ‘Okay, where do I go?’” said Alencewicz, a School of Arts and Sciences first-year student.
The group welcomes all undergraduates at the University who identify as LGBTQ, but it specifically caters to those majoring in the sciences, said Sharice Richardson, the group’s faculty advisor.
“We hope to be basically a forum for students to explore their fields in the sciences, technology, engineering and mathematics,” said Richardson, assistant dean in the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences.
Helene Puzio, co-president of oSTEM, said the professional component sets their organization apart from conventional LGBTQ groups.
“As far as the LGBTQ community is concerned, we need a more professional standpoint [about] what to do in the workplace,” said Puzio, a School of Environmental and Biological Sciences sophomore. “That’s something I feel we don’t really have here at Rutgers, that’s definitely a new experience.”
Nick Margolies, a School of Environmental and Biological Sciences first-year student, said o-STEM helps him feel more secure in the presence of students at the meeting who are in a similar position.
“I’m transgender and it’s very reassuring to know in the sciences you have a lot of support — not only in academics but also emotionally [and] mentally — so you’re not just walking off a cliff,” Margolies said.
Alex Simao, a member of the group, said oSTEM helps reassure him of his status in the workforce.
“I feel like a lot of other groups are just about civil rights. But with civil rights you don’t get representation,” said Simao, a School of Environmental and Biological Sciences sophomore.
Alencewicz said establishing the group on campus and its recognition among both students and faculty are crucial for the University’s status as a diverse campus.
“As diverse as Rutgers is, they’re missing that aspect,” she said. “If they want to keep up their awesome standing, they’ll have to stay on top of that.”
Richardson said the University’s diverse status is necessary to keep up competition with other respected universities.
“It’s important for the Rutgers community because this is found in every major state university of quality,” she said.
oSTEM exists at the national level and hosts an annual conference in Washington D.C., which Richardson hopes the University’s branch can participate in once it is more established.
“Hopefully, we’ll in the course of developing this organization have the opportunity to send our students to join that conference,” she said. “Employers from IBM and a lot of other science and technical firms are present there and we’ll be recruiting and advocating there.”
Members were surprised when about 20 students attended the first meeting in Meeting Room B of the Douglass Campus Center.
“I kind of expected us to be standing in an empty room with a couple cups of coffee,” Margolies said.
He said the group hopes to have more companies become involved in meetings.
“I’d love to have corporations, panels — basically bring their industry, their corporation and share with us how to succeed as an [LGBTQ] identified person,” Richardson said. “Those who are LGBTQ identified can realize there are offerings out there that are safe, and we’ll offer them benefits that average companies won’t.”
No matter where the future takes the group, she believes oSTEM will continue to provide self-identified LGBTQ science students a tight-knit community.
“I think that the students who are interested in an organization like this, they’re just looking to connect to other students who have similar interests,” Richardson said.