As a Knoxville native, Isabel Boyd grew up aware of the many great resources available at the University of Tennessee. Her awareness led her to create a timely project that spans disciplines and took her to the Tennessee state capitol to share her findings.
Boyd is now a sophomore in biomedical engineering, but began her Engineering Vol experience while still in high school through participation in pre-college summer programs.
“I was able to meet so many great students who served as role models through their experiences and knowledge,” she recalled. “Especially important was the HITES12 camp the summer before my senior year of high school. I was able to really connect with the counselors and ask important questions.”
Some of those counselors are engineering seniors now, and Boyd has enjoyed working with them on a variety of outreach projects—a connection that inspired her to join the team.
“I was excited to apply because I wanted to serve as a positive role model for the students participating,” she said.
Boyd stays conscious of positive ways to use her role as a student, even across disciplines. She used lessons from her honors literature class to investigate women’s experiences studying and working in STEM fields.
“We were given lots of freedom in our assignment to create a survey to investigate a certain topic,” she said. “We had read the novella Chronicle of a Death Foretold, by Gabriel García Márquez, and were asked to create a word map about different themes that we saw emerge.”
She noted misogynistic elements running throughout the plot, set in the 1950s, and wanted to examine how such attitudes still linger today.
“Being a woman in STEM and having my own unique experiences, I wanted to see what other women’s experiences were in getting into STEM fields and what things could maybe be improved to increase the number of women in these fields,” said Boyd.
She used the original class paper as a pilot study and collaborated with Women in Engineering mentors Jalonda Thompson (pictured above, right, with Boyd) and Anne Skutnik to apply for permission from the Institutional Review Board to conduct a more involved survey. They focused the scope to look specifically at women in their first year of study at the Tickle College of Engineering.
“The findings of both surveys were similar,” said Boyd. “People have high inartistic motivations to pursue STEM, in the forms of long-time interest in science and math as well as some having positive past experiences with STEM, like at the pre-college programs. Overall, women had these strong intrinsic motivators to pursue STEM but felt held back due to factors such as anticipated gender discrimination and concerns about having a family and a STEM career.”
Boyd had two opportunities to present her findings beyond the campus community. She prepared a presentation for the 2022 Collaborative Network for Engineering and Computing Diversity (CoNECD) conference, and while doing so learned about the Tennessee state event called Posters at the Capitol. She ultimately presented at both and felt the impact her work could achieve.
“I realized part of my project could be useful and actually help create a change,” said Boyd. “One of the main push factors for women pursuing STEM was the difficulty of the work-life balance and concerns about maternity leave. I might be able to help get a bill passed that would improve the family leave policies in the state of Tennessee.”
At the CoNECD conference, Boyd heard from impactful speakers from across the country and met faculty and PhD students who are making positive changes in their respective universities.
“The conversations about diversity that came up from each of the sessions were very enlightening and thought-provoking,” she said. Boyd enjoyed learning a range of ideas from fellow conference attendees and gained a new perspective on her own career goals and the best ways she can contribute to the scientific community.
“I have many passions and causes I want to help with, especially social and environmental justice,” said Boyd. “Finding a way to combine these into a sustaining career is my ultimate goal, and I will continue to explore different avenues within my major to find the best way to do this.”