Illustration of three women and various STEM symbols

Women in STEM at Loyola University

Women in STEM at Loyola find a strong support system through female faculty leaders, mentorship, and initiatives aimed at preparing students for successful careers in STEM

Women remain largely underrepresented in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields, making up fewer than one-third of STEM workers in the United States, according to Census Bureau estimates.

Yet, Loyola University Maryland continues to build and cultivate a strong and nurturing STEM community with a growing number of bright and talented women, both faculty and students.

What’s more, Loyola’s STEM leadership—faculty who oversee the biology, chemistry and biochemistry, computer science, and engineering departments and Pre-Health Programs at Loyola—are predominately female.

As the University celebrates 50 Years of Women at Loyola, following the 1971 merger of then-all-male Loyola College with the all-female Mount Saint Agnes College, several female STEM faculty leaders share their experiences: the obstacles they’ve faced, ways inclusion is embraced at Loyola, what inspires them, and their hopes for the future.

Birgit Albrecht portrait photo

Birgit Albrecht, Ph.D.

Associate professor and chair, department of chemistry and biochemistry

For Birgit Albrecht, Ph.D., the community has been her favorite aspect of teaching and working at Loyola these past 15 years, and she believes the STEM community in particular is incredibly supportive through the faculty’s in-depth mentoring and guidance. As a person who loves STEM because of the countless ways to ask “why” and “how,” Albrecht hopes and encourages students to:

Follow your passion. There will be hard times ahead, and it is much easier if you love what you do.

On overcoming adversity in a male-dominated field:

As a first-year student, my assigned advisor suggested I should try to do biology or pharmacology instead of chemistry, since it is less mathematical and “girls often struggle with that.” Well, I ended up in the most mathematical type of chemistry (theoretical), so I am not sure if my career path was in spite of him—or because of him.

On Loyola’s support for female STEM faculty leaders:

What is powerful is that many (if not all) of the female leaders in STEM at Loyola were chosen by their colleagues. It is the entire academic community here that chooses these leaders and affirms that gender, identity, or race have no impact on your ability as a leader or as a scientist.

On mentorship opportunities for students, especially those who are underrepresented in STEM:

Loyola has many different mentoring opportunities, from formal ALANA (African, Latinx, Asian and Native American) initiatives to informal mentoring. In chemistry, we bring upper-level students into introductory labs alongside faculty to provide leadership opportunities—as well as peer mentorship for our first-year students. We have also started offering general chemistry as a Messina course in the hope of improving community and connections amongst STEM students and STEM faculty early in the students’ time at Loyola.

Raenita A. Fenner portrait photo

Raenita A. Fenner, Ph.D.

Associate professor of engineering; director of African and African American Studies interdisciplinary minor

It was her father who inspired Fenner to study science. Now in her second decade at the University, she values working in STEM in Loyola’s caring community and wishes everyone could experience the same:

What I hope for the most is that when you step into a room, whether a classroom or a meeting at your job, that you feel supported, so you can share your thoughts and opinions.

On overcoming adversity in a male-dominated field:

It’s always complex when you are the only one in a group—the only woman, the only African American, whatever it is—to have feelings, opinions, and interpretations that are different from everyone else and not backing down. I’ve found support and mentorship from women and African Americans outside my department. And I’ve made up my mind that I’m going to succeed.

On Loyola’s efforts to be inclusive for all students in STEM:

In general, Loyola is a very nurturing campus and a great environment for women who want to study STEM disciplines. We have quite a few women in science or tech clubs here, like Scientistas and Society for Women Engineers (SWE). Faculty also tend to have a general awareness of the number of female students we have in our classes.

On advice for the next generation:

If this field is something you know you really want to do, then stay committed. There will be people who underestimate you or try to make unfair assumptions about you. The most important thing is to finish. STEM degrees are very flexible. If you get an engineering or math degree, you can do all sorts of things with your degree.

Megan Olsen portrait photo

Megan Olsen, Ph.D.

Professor of computer sciencedirector, CPaMS Scholars Program

Megan Olsen, Ph.D., grew up loving programming and computers, even before she knew computer science was a field of study. She’s been at Loyola for more than a decade and believes gender equity in STEM is improving, but says she looks forward to the new generation’s continued efforts to make positive change in tech culture:

I hope that one day anyone could walk into a room and be assumed to be the scientist, and that every child in this country has access to a quality computer science education, computers, and the Internet.

On overcoming adversity in a male-dominated field:

My worst experience in college was being the only woman in a 400-level course in which I knew no one. If I hadn’t already had strong confidence in my abilities, it could have been devastating. I still deal with microaggressions, but due to my early confidence in my abilities—in part thanks to some great female professors/teachers in high school and college—that’s never made me doubt if I belong in computer science.

On Loyola’s efforts to be inclusive for all students in STEM:

We have clubs for Women in Technology (WiT) and a Society for Women Engineers (SWE), which are facilitated and mentored by female faculty. We’ve sent students to conferences that celebrate diversity in computer science. We strive to use inclusive pedagogical practices in the classroom. We are currently partnering with a national organization to survey computer science students on climate in the department and our courses to determine other measures for inclusive teaching and learning.

On mentorship opportunities for students, especially those who are underrepresented in STEM:

Loyola offers many different support structures for all students, including our first-year program Messina, Evergreen student mentoring, academic advisors, and supportive faculty members. We also have social activities to engage and connect our students, such as our Second Fridays with STEM, hosted at the Center for Intercultural Engagement.

Lisa Scheifele portrait photo

Lisa Z. Scheifele, Ph.D.

Associate professor and chair, department of biology

Lisa Z. Scheifele, Ph.D., loves collaboration at all levels—whether that means working across fields to make new discoveries and analyze big data or the Loyola community’s collective investment in each student’s success. Now in her 11th year at Loyola, she aims to share with her students encouragement and optimism:

This generation has had so much to cope with. I can’t wait to see the changes that they create to make the world a better and more just place.

On Loyola’s support for female faculty leaders in STEM:

We have great mentoring among the faculty here, so that senior faculty encourage and support women to consider taking on leadership roles. I am co-leader of the Women Faculty Leadership Coalition, which has as its primary goal for female faculty across all divisions at Loyola to come together to hear from, learn from, and receive encouragement from other female leaders.

On Loyola’s efforts to be inclusive for all students in STEM:

The biology department offers STiNTS-Pro, which stands for Successful Transition into Natural and Technological Science Program, and its goal is to build a supportive, inclusive, and caring academic community. Also, biology’s Beta Buddies program pairs upper-class bio students who are part of the Biology Honor Society (Tri-Beta) with first-year students for peer mentoring.

On hopes for the future in expanding diversity in the STEM field:

There is clear data in science that more diversity leads to better science, as new perspectives challenge our assumptions and cause us to take new approaches. As science becomes more inclusive, I look forward to new questions and new avenues being opened, and a greater realization that the questions that we choose to ask—and therefore the answers that we find—are important, are tied to our identities, and can make a positive impact for all of us.

Maiju Lehmijoki Wetzel portrait photo

Maiju Lehmijoki Wetzel, Ph.D.

Director, Loyola Pre-Health Programs; affiliate professor, department of theology

Born in Finland, Maiju Lehmijoki Wetzel, Ph.D., has spent much of her life in the United States and more than two decades at Loyola University Maryland. “Loyola feels like home away from home for me.” Originally a historian with a Ph.D. in history, she entered the field of nursing when she turned 40. She enjoys that her current role of working with future health professionals connects natural sciences and health outcomes with the humanity of patient care.

On the changing landscape of gender equity in STEM:

Young women are changing the field of medicine and health care as they are entering it in greater numbers. There’s a great perspective of a woman’s capacity to excel in the sciences here at Loyola because they can find role models—and because they see strong representation of female scientists and professors.

On Loyola’s efforts to be inclusive for all students in STEM:

It’s important that the Pre-Health community at Loyola represents the diversity of its patients and future patients. The framework of a Loyola education is based on the individual learner, so we have an excellent support system to provide extra support and additional resources, based on needs and strengths.

On mentorship opportunities for students, especially those who are underrepresented in STEM:

We guide our students in advising, especially as they apply for medical, dental, and other professional schools. The students also have strong role models in female faculty, and they themselves are role models for each other, including through alumni panels and student clubs like the Society for Underrepresented Pre-Health Students.

Today’s female STEM leaders impact the next generation

Female students in STEM fields find role models at Loyola University Maryland. The strong representation of female STEM leaders and the supportive campus environment are inspirational for many students, including:

  • Nada Jokhadar, ’23, a biopsychology interdisciplinary major from Perry Hall, Maryland, vice president of the student Women’s Pre-Health Society and aspiring physician, for whom the presence and number of female STEM leaders at Loyola was an exciting aspect of coming to the University. “I knew that I had wonderful female leaders to support me throughout my college journey.”
  • Mhret Alemu, ’22, a biochemistry and Forensic Studies double major and biomedical physics minor from Charlotte, North Carolina, who hopes to become a physician assistant and sees a fundamental way “Loyola promotes inclusivity is by promoting the visibility of underrepresented individuals in STEM.”
  • Gillian M. Blackwood, ’22, a biology major with a business minor from Queens, New York, a former co-vice president of the Biology Club, and an aspiring oncologist, who shared, “The female faculty at Loyola have led many engaging research projects, which inspires me because this shows that women in STEM can fill spaces of leadership while achieving success in various areas of research.”
  • Siena Pizzano, ’22, a data science major with a minor in innovation and entrepreneurship from West Orange, New Jersey, who has been in STEM classes full of male students; however, “the strong presence of female faculty in STEM is very inspiring because it encourages female students to push through in their classes because they know a woman has been in their shoes and persevered.” Now Pizzano is poised for success as she looks forward to launching her career as a catastrophe modeling analyst at the firm where she interned last summer.