For the first time at UT, student organizations and programs focused on women in STEM fields are coming together in a formal group led by the Cockrell School of Engineering’s Women in Engineering Program (WEP). The Women in STEM Leadership Collaborative includes 1,000+ women from 24 organizations across engineering and sciences at UT to collaborate, share resources and participate in leadership development opportunities, mentorship programs and other activities.

The Women in STEM Leadership Collaborative — established in September 2020 following a generous $50,000 grant from 3M and 3M Gives­ — is reflective of 3M and WEP’s shared mission to address STEM equity. This new initiative builds upon the WEP Leadership Collaborative, which started with four engineering student organizations when it was formed in 2010. The Women in STEM Leadership Collaborative multiplies WEP’s already-outstanding efforts and extends much of the programming that WEP has been providing over the past three decades. Since 1991, WEP has been connecting students, educators and professionals through outreach initiatives, specialized programming and leadership development training, striving to increase the percentage of women who apply, enroll and graduate from Texas Engineering.

Members of the 2019 WEP Leadership Collaborative. Members participate in leadership development events throughout the year. The Association for Women in STEM at UT Austin is one of the organizations to join the new Women in STEM Leadership Collaborative.

wep leadership collaborative 2019

association for women in stem at ut austin

“So much of WEP’s programming is relevant for women in STEM, not just women in engineering,” said Tricia Berry, director of the Cockrell School’s Women in Engineering Program. “We have great content and great curriculum that applies to different spaces, so why not widen the opportunities for more students to join? There is power in community, and we’re so excited to expand that community across the university.”

The establishment of the Women in STEM Leadership Collaborative helps to formalize the collaboration that has already been occurring in the STEM space on campus. As organizations across the Forty Acres work to find ways to support gender equity in STEM fields, their advocacy efforts have naturally overlapped, leading to programmatic collaboration.

One group, the Association for Women in STEM at UT Austin (AWIS), has been partnering with WEP for years. Established in 2018 by five graduate students and one faculty member, AWIS’ mission is to promote the representation, development and success of women in STEM by fostering a cross-disciplinary community. Since its creation, the group has grown to include 450 students, including graduate and undergraduate students, faculty, staff and postdocs.

“We’re looking forward to future opportunities to work with the different organizations that are a part of the Women in STEM Leadership Collaborative, and it’s exciting to have additional programming aimed at women across STEM disciplines for our members to take part in,” said Sophie Sanchez, president of AWIS and a graduate student in neuroscience. “By equipping women in STEM at UT with additional resources, professional development and mentorship opportunities, we are empowering them to succeed and become leaders in their fields, despite current disadvantages. The community we have built is critical for providing mutual support and expanding our networks. The Women in STEM Leadership Collaborative will only strengthen the synergy of women in STEM at UT.”

3M’s funding and partnership with the Women in STEM Leadership Collaborative points to a larger, industry-wide movement to increase awareness and opportunity for women in STEM fields.

“I’m incredibly proud of 3M’s focus on supporting diversity, inclusion and equality in our business practices, communities and workplaces,” said Stacey Claessens, community relations manager at 3M. “It has resulted in major accomplishments that are not only important to me as a woman, but to my fellow female 3Mers, such as achieving 100% gender pay equity in the U.S. However, we also know that there’s so much more work to do to, and we’re committed. 3M has announced new goals to double the representation of underrepresented groups in our U.S. workforce as well as a $50 million commitment to address racial opportunity gaps in STEM and trade skills education. Supporting the first-ever Women in STEM Leadership Collaborative at UT Austin is an investment that aligns perfectly with what we at 3M want to achieve, together.”

The Women in STEM Leadership Collaborative is currently in the midst of the 2021 Women in STEM Conference — nearly a month and a half of programming geared toward collegiate women and STEM professionals. As we begin Women’s History Month and prepare to celebrate International Women’s Day on March 8, the conference will feature WEP Leadership Workshops on Wednesdays throughout March and FabFems Webinars on Fridays, along with joint events during the Texas Science Festival.