Thoughts on stereotyping of Latina women in science

Angela Jimenez

Angela Jimenez

Recently an article in the Washington Post entitled, “Black and Latina women scientists sometimes mistaken for janitors,” was brought to my attention. The Nano-Bio blog editor and INBT science writer, Mary Spiro, asked me if I would be willing to write a response to it. After considering this topic and my experience in the States, I cannot say that I have felt stereotyped due to being a female Hispanic scientist.

Although stereotyping is a more profound issue, it is not completely unreasonable. Let me explained myself: I recently defended my PhD work at Johns Hopkins University and in the five and a half years that I have spent here, most of the janitors are blacks including a few Hispanics. When I would walk to lab, I could hear construction guys talking in Spanish all the time. Unfortunately, this stereotype is sometimes our current reality. This could be partly explained from the fact that some of us come from developing countries, and it is difficult when we come to the States to be up to speed with everyone else who has been born and raised here. This gap could be due to a variety of factors, such as the lack of education, the cultural differences, the language barrier, and even the influence of our family.

One of the reasons that I have not felt particularly stereotyped is probably because when I moved to the States 13 years ago, I came to New York City, which is known as the melting pot of this country. I went to City College of New York and out of a class of 30, there was only one person originally from the States. Everyone else was from somewhere around the world.

After arriving to the US, I was aware that I was coming from a developing country, and that I needed to work hard to succeed, which I would define as getting educated. When I decided to come here, I moved without my family and without knowing any English and I feel that the most important thing that made me succeed was the great desire and determination to learn and get educated. This determination probably made me so focus on achieving my goals that I never really thought about being stereotyped or discriminated even when this could had been the case.

Looking back, I can only say that yes, I worked really hard, but I have been extremely fortunate to be able to earn a PhD from one of the leading Universities. Now, do I think it is fair that women, in particular Blacks and Hispanics, are stereotyped or even discriminated? Of course not, but the issue here is greater than this. Stereotyping and discrimination depend on several variables. For instance, geography, demographics, education, and income all play a role.

I have Hispanic Engineer friends who work in different industries in non-traditional roles, and I have observed that the ones who work in New York City are less likely to be stereotyped or discriminated than the ones elsewhere. Do I think that as women we should support each other and create societies that inspire and help us navigate the system? Of course yes! Motivating and helping women pursue a career in the field of science will help increase the percentage of women in these challenging positions. Over time, this will lead to a greater representation of the number of blacks and Latina women scientists, and this current stereotype and discrimination will eventually vanish.

About the author: Angela Jimenez recently completed her PhD in Chemical and Biomolecular engineering in the laboratory of Denis Wirtz, associate director of INBT and Vice Provost for Research at Johns Hopkins University.

Sharing knowledge through ChemBE’s STEM education initiative

While being in the world of science, I have discovered I am most fulfilled when I am able to share my knowledge and experiences with others. What could be more rewarding than sharing our scientific knowledge to inspire the people who could potentially be the next generation of educators to get involved in science and engineering? Since I have been part of an awesome outreach opportunity within the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering (ChemBe), I wanted to share with you about this experience.

Angela Jimenez, left, with some of the kids in the STEM program.

Angela Jimenez, left, with some of the kids in the STEM program.

The Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEM) education initiative in the ChemBe department was started by graduate students to foster and encourage science and engineering in kids of a wide range of ages at different Baltimore city recreation centers. ChemBe former PhD students Dr. Stephanie Fraley and Dr. Jeannine Coburn in collaboration with center directors Joshua Fissell (South Baltimore) and William Sullivan (Ella Bailey) launched STEM during the fall semester of 2009. I personally joined STEM since then, and I actually participated in the initial meetings to bring this initiative live.

STEM meetings are organized at the beginning of every semester by the service chairs from the Graduate Student Liaison Committee (GSLC) of the ChemBE department. Service chairs along with the interested graduate students meet to plan and decide the general topic and subtopics that will be cover during that particular semester. As we started visiting recreation centers back in 2009, we realized that the kids followed and enjoyed more the interaction with graduate students if we had a general theme and built on that theme during the different meetings. Deciding on a theme and subtopics is the primary goal of the first general meeting.

Once the theme and the subtopics are decided, we divide into groups of three to four graduate students to distribute the subtopics. After that first meeting, the individual groups are responsible for preparing hands-on experiments to teach kids about the basic science of that particular topic before traveling to the Baltimore City Recreation Center. We usually meet one week before going to the center to plan out the experiments, and we spend about two hours with the kids on site. We organize the meetings this way so that each graduate student goes once per semester to the recreation center; therefore, the time commitment is minimal.

Building the bed garden.

Building the bed garden.

During one semester we built a bed garden at the South Baltimore Recreation Center and taught kids the science behind plant growth and cooking. They also had the opportunity to visit the White House kitchen garden. Although I did not get the chance to visit the White House garden, I have pleasant memories about crafting the garden with the kids. I remember the kids really enjoying planting basil, tomatoes and other plants while getting messy with the dirt as they learned about scientific principles. For instance, this semester the general theme is great scientific discoveries and among the subtopics to be covered are light and gravity, telecommunications, evolution, medicine, and astronomy.

We are currently working with the Roosevelt Recreation Center in Hampden, but we have also worked with the Ella Bailey and South Baltimore recreation centers. Every semester we mentor about 14 kids of various ages, typically ranging from 8 to 14 year olds.

Besides this being an unparalleled opportunity to share our knowledge and improve our communication and teaching skills, we also get to interact and meet other graduate students in the department. By making education accessible to kids in our community we are providing a platform for understanding and potential contributions to science and engineering in the years to follow. Our ultimate goal is to awake and instill in the youths a passion for discovery and innovation, the passion that is constantly shaping our future.

Angela Jimenez is fifth year pre-doctoral candidate in the Denis Wirtz lab in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering.