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Campus News

‘Tweetathon’ examines participation of women in STEM

By SUE WUETCHER

Published October 9, 2014

“My hope is that actionable items will emerge from the discussion to help push UB towards the ’50 percent by ’50’ goal.”
Liesl Folks, dean
School of Engineering and Applied Sciences

Some of UB’s most respected women in STEM are using the popular social media platform Twitter to continue the university’s conversation on the participation of women in the notoriously male-dominated fields of science, technology, engineering and math.

The “tweetathon,” #5050by2050, will take place on Oct. 20, facilitated by six female faculty and staff members who will share their insights and experiences on being women in STEM professions.

The conversation will open at 8 a.m. with a welcome message from Liesl Folks, dean of the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. Then every hour, a guest host will lead new discussion on specific topics regarding women in STEM by tweeting questions or linking to publication or other resources on that particular topic.

The public is invited to join the conversation by responding to the tweets or sharing additional information about the topics — those wishing to join the discussion should search for the hashtag “#5050by2050.”

The goal, says guest host Kathleen Murphy, network service manager for CIT Network and Classroom Services, is to “increase the participation of women in STEM careers to at least 50 percent by 2050 — or preferably sooner — which is why we adopted the hashtag #5050by2050.”

The tweetathon is a follow-up to last spring’s “Sit With Me” program, which aimed to raise the visibility of women in technology.

“The tweetathon will allow us to continue the great discussion that we started on campus with the “Sit With Me” event and permit us to share ideas and experiences across organizational boundaries,” says Folks, who delivered the keynote address at Sit With Me. “My hope is that actionable items will emerge from the discussion to help push UB towards the ’50 percent by ’50’ goal.”

The hosts decided to use Twitter as the forum for the discussion because of its reach, Murphy explains. She notes that Twitter logs more than 300 million tweets every day, and virtually all 18-to-24-year-olds — 98 percent — use the social media. And the fastest-growing cohort on Twitter is persons ages 55 to 64, she adds.

“We hope that interested citizens will tune in live, depending on their availability or interest, so that we can engage in a real-time conversation,” Murphy says. Moreover, this forum has the added benefit of flexibility. “If people miss the event, they can join the conversation as their schedule permits and they can join the conversation from where ever is convenient for them, provided they have a Twitter account,” she says.

“By not being place-bound, we are hoping to appeal to the greater community.”

Interest in the issue of women in STEM is high at UB, as evidenced by the success of the “Sit with Me” program last semester.

“We had to close registration due to overwhelming interest and limited seating capacity,” says Murphy, who organized that program. “At the end of the session, we had to prematurely shut down conversation due to scheduling constraints.”

The organizers of the “Sit With Me” event wanted to gauge demand and find out if there is sustained interest in this topic of women’s participation in STEM professions without investing a huge effort or cost, she says, noting the idea for a tweetathon was borrowed from the global tweetathon the United Nations held in May to kick off its Beijing+20 Campaign on gender equality and women’s empowerment.

The UB tweetathon will focus on how to increase the number of women in the STEM workforce —women presently hold about a quarter of all technology and computing jobs, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Following Folks’ welcome (@LieslFolks) at 8 a.m., the other five hosts will address specific themes. The schedule:

  • 9 a.m.: Glenna Bett (@GlennaBett), associate professor and vice chair for research in the Department of Obstetrics-Gynecology, will facilitate discussion on attracting girls and women to STEM careers.
  • 10 a.m.: Ann Bisantz (@AnnBisantz), professor and chair of the Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering, will lead a discussion on retaining women in STEM careers.
  • 11 a.m.: Mary Henesey (@mhenny), assistant director in the Office of Web Services, also will tackle the issue of retaining women in STEM careers.
  • Noon: Kathleen Murphy (@0kathleenmurphy), network service manager for CIT Network and Classroom Services, will address the issue of promoting women in STEM careers.
  • 1 p.m.: Leslie (Lei) Ying (@lei_ying_01), associate professor of biomedical and electrical engineering, will lead another discussion on attracting girls and women to STEM careers.