Last month, Sydney Swartman, College of Agricultural and Life Sciences (CALS) biology senior, attended the oSTEM National Conference in Boston, Massachusetts. Swartman is the president of the local chapter of Out in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (oSTEM), a national professional association dedicated to empowering LGBTQ+ people in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) to succeed by cultivating environments that nurture innovation, leadership and advocacy.
The conference began with a gender-affirming professional clothing swap where Swartman donated professional dresses that she was pleased to see were immediately grabbed by other attendees. After this was the Career and Graduate School Boot-camp, where attendees worked with hiring specialists to improve their resumes. There were around 50 exhibitors tabling from companies such as Boeing, Pfizer and NASA. Swartman said she focused on speaking with exhibitors within the biological or agricultural fields, most of which were governmental agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency. She recalled a lack of agricultural organizations tabling but mentions one of note: Ingredion, a leading global ingredients solutions company that makes sweeteners, starches, and biomaterials. “I appreciated hearing about their environmental goals and increased focus on inclusivity,” Swartman said.
After the Expo, Swartman attended a talk on empowerment through opportunity by Catherine Marsh, Ph.D., director of intelligence research projects for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. Marsh shared her experiences as a woman in STEM and her journey to the top. Attendees heard about her work on the lithium-ion technology used for NASA’s MARS exploration rovers Spirit and Opportunity. Marsh explained how they failed in the construction of the Lithium-ion technology approximately 50 times before they were successful, illustrating the theme of her talk: failure is an option.
The second and final day of the conference began with two workshops, one from the US Patent Office and the other from Stephanie Huard, Ph.D. Swartman learned how to make herself stand out in job applications and how to incorporate mindfulness into her self-care routine. At the evening dinner, the keynote speech was delivered by Sam Brinton, a nuclear engineer and LGBTQ+ activist who is the first openly gender-fluid person in federal government leadership. “Their speech made me laugh and cry many times over the delectable strawberry mousse they served,” Swartman said.
“While there were some difficulties arriving at the conference due to Hurricane Nicole, I was so happy I attended,” Swartman said while reflecting on her experience. “I made sure to collect information on how our members could apply to the opportunities presented at the conference. I plan to present this information at our next general body meeting.” Swartman was granted the opportunity to attend this conference through funding from the VP Promise, a UF/IFAS CALS initiative that provides funds to enrich the undergraduate student experience.