2020 Women & Technology Conference
The 2020 West Virginia Women & Technology Conference was held virtually on October 19 and featured Dr. Nicole Pride, President of West Virginia State University, as the keynote speaker.
In July 2020, Dr. Pride was named the 12th President of West Virginia State University, which is a public, land grant, historically Black university that has evolved into a fully accessible, racially integrated, and multi-generational university located in Institute, WV.
In her remarks, Dr. Pride made a powerful case for closing the gender gap in STEM, noting that “technology is a great equalizer” that can accelerate learning and growth. “We have some work to do,” she added.
She pointed out that women who pursue STEM fields can earn higher average wages and contribute solutions to a wide range of problems faced by society. In addition, she noted that companies with strong commitments to diversity and inclusion see the positive results of their efforts in improved bottom lines.
Prior to entering the higher education field, Dr. Pride spent several years in the corporate and nonprofit sectors, including working for IBM and the Child Care Services Association. In those positions, she created public-private partnerships to host summer STEM camps and early learning programs.
“Technology can bring equity to our communities,” she said. “Public-private partnerships are key.”
Dr. Pride also highlighted the need for employees to enter the workforce with “soft skills,” sometimes described as essential skills, including the ability to clearly communicate, dependability, critical thinking, empathy, problem-solving and more. “Employers ask about soft skills all the time,” she said.
Regarding the future for WV State University, Dr. Pride said, “We have to see ourselves as global problem solvers” by emphasizing diversity, inclusion and equity.
The conference also featured two panel discussions. A team of researchers from WV State University focused on an insider’s look at the triumphs, challenges and lessons learned in leading research while working at a land-grant institution this is also a Historically Black College & University.
Moderated by Dr. Ami Smith, Director of WV State University Extension Service, this panel included Dr. Padma Nimmakayala, Associate Professor of Research, Department of Biology; Dr. Barbara Liedl, Associate Professor, Department of Biology and Dr. Sean Collins, Associate Professor and Department Chair, Department of Biology.
The diversity of experience among these researchers offered a range of insights on building a career in research, while also highlighting special initiatives underway at WV State University to grow a more-inclusive STEM community.
A second panel, “Race Matters: A Conversation with Scholars,” featured Dr. Lauri Andress, Assistant Professor in the School of Public Health at West Virginia University and Stephanie House-Niamke, who is a W.E.B. Du Bois Fellow & Doctoral Student in Sociology at West Virginia University. Moderated by Dr. Melanie Page, WVU Associate Vice President for Creative and Scholarly Activity, this discussion centered on the effects of systemic racism across all areas of society, and how White people can become better allies.
Among her research areas, Dr. Andress studies disparities in health and has worked to raise awareness about the high infant mortality rate among Blacks in West Virginia. She referenced Nobel prize winner Toni Morrison’s book of essays, The Origin of Others, in understanding the construct of “otherness” and its role in reinforcing racism.
Ms. House-Niamke called efforts to “undo things within ourselves that allow others to be hurt, or hurt” a “lifetime of work” and suggested that people continue to put themselves in uncomfortable situations. Being a better listener—and knowing when to stay silent—contributes to better understanding, she said.
The 2020 Women & Technology Conference is hosted by TechConnect West Virginia and sponsored by Marshall University, the High Technology Foundation, the NASA West Virginia Space Grant Consortium, Suddenlink, West Virginia Jobs Investment Trust and West Virginia University.