A selected group of women’s college STEM student leaders, including Alicia Mercado’22, had the opportunity to engage in conversation with two of the most powerful women in national defense to discuss the importance of STEM and women in leadership roles.
Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks, PhD, and Chair of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee Representative Betty McCollum (MN-04) — both graduates of women’s colleges — took part in an hour-long webinar hosted by the Women’s College Coalition on March 30 focusing at the intersection between women’s colleges, STEM and national defense.
Women, and particularly women of color, continue to be underrepresented in STEM professions. Women only make up 28% of the science, technology, engineering and mathematics workforce, with women of color comprising just 5% of that total, according to the American Association of University Women.
The panelists answered questions from five participating students about how their women’s college experiences helped them prepare for leadership roles, the challenges faced by women in male-dominated sectors and career advice for young women entering STEM professions.
Hicks serves as the 35th Deputy Secretary of Defense, where she oversees the Defense Department’s day-to-day business, manages the defense budget and executes the defense secretary’s priorities. A graduate from Mount Holyoke College (Massachusetts), she explained that her women’s college experience was central to the development of her analytical and communication skills.
“Some of the things that really stand out to me from my time in college that continue to this day are those small class opportunities, the dialogue and serious debate, and the ability to engage with your fellow students and with professors on a basis of respect and collegiality,” said Hicks. “Those same basic core principles really drive how in the workplace, you have to go after compromise. You have to develop a way of working with others. That stuck with me.”
An alumna from St. Catherine University (Minnesota), Congress member McCollum serves as chair of the Defense Appropriations subcommittee and is responsible for writing the annual defense funding bill of more than $700 billion.
“It was great to join the Women’s College Coalition to highlight the importance of building the bench of STEM talent and developing the next generation of women leaders – which will help us meet our current and future workforce needs and make our economy stronger,” said McCollum.
“It’s very important that the federal government has a partnership with women’s colleges and universities because you’re the future,” Rep. McCollum said to the students “You’re the future for our democracy, for technology and for advancement.”
Rounding out the panel were seniors Katherine Dunkley from Trinity Washington University (DC), Ekua Beneman from Spelman College (Georgia), Lucinda Manlick from Mount Holyoke University, Morgan Batiste-Simms from St. Catherine University and Simmons University President Lynn Perry Wooten, PhD, who moderated the dialogue.
“It was an incredible honor to host Dr. Hicks and Chair McCollum for a conversation with the next generation of women leaders,” said Emerald Archer, PhD, executive director of the Women’s College Coalition, who also serves as director of the Center for the Advancement of Women at Mount Saint Mary’s. “Dr. Hicks and Chair McCollum exemplify the qualities and characteristics that we strive to instill in our students. Access to their wisdom, experience and perspective has empowered our students so they’re able to make a positive impact and, ultimately, change the world.”
This event was held during Women’s History Month, a month-long celebration that highlights women’s contributions to society.
The Women’s College Coalition represents 33 women’s universities and colleges in the United States and Canada. For the last three years, Mount Saint Mary’s has housed the WCC’s headquarters on campus and President McElaney-Johnson has been the board chair of the Coalition since 2017. She has been championing the efforts to promote federal support for women’s colleges across the nation, as she is a strong advocate for women’s colleges and the important role that they continue to play in higher education.
The full recording of the event can be found here.