FORT PIERCE, Fla.— ‘STEMinist’ earned its way into the Cambridge Dictionary in March 2018. If you want to see the term in action, just ask Ph.D. student Kelly Carruthers—or follow her on Twitter.
Search #STEMinist on Twitter, and Kelly Carruthers’ tweets will emerge @kellycrazbugs. On Twitter, Carruthers employs the hashtag #STEMinist to attract others who share her interests in science, academia, and women empowerment. Carruthers uses the hashtag to promote women in science.
The ‘STEM’ acronym, an abbreviation for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics disciplines, emerged in 2001 when National Science Foundation officials began to promote the topics. A STEMinist fosters education and equality in STEM disciplines. And although the word is not well-known, it often appears as a hashtag on social media platforms.
Carruthers pursues a doctorate with the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) department of entomology and nematology. She performs her research at the UF/IFAS Indian River Research and Education Center in Fort Pierce, inside the Norman C. Hayslip Biological Control Research and Containment Laboratory, one of only three facilities in Florida in which researchers test biological control invasive species. Carruthers also works in places around Florida where invasive plants infest native landscapes.
A former high school teacher whose students seek her out on social media to provide updates on their college studies and career plans, Carruthers plans to teach the public about biological control after her expected graduation next year.
A recent Twitter post from Carruthers reads: “I ran across an old message from a former student saying he is in pursuit of a #stem career because of my bio class. This is why I teach. To pass the baton to the next ‘gen.’”
Several more posts on Carruthers’ Twitter handle feature appropriate attire for fieldwork. When Carruthers scouts for insects in dense brush, she sports a thin, full-body white suit accessorized with a white mesh face mask. Other tweets include fun micro-lesson video segments about Carruthers’ active experiments. Twitter is popular with scientists, and offers students opportunities to find scholarships, internships, and jobs.
“Social media is an opportunity to reach a wide audience and teach small segments about science and positive outcomes,” said Carruthers.
Carruthers’ advisor, Carey Minteer, is an assistant professor of entomology and an expert in biological control of invasive plants. Minteer said Carruthers inspires girls in the elementary, middle, and high schools they visit.
Minteer leads a public affairs curriculum called “Invasion Science” in local schools each year. The program helps youth learn about invasive species and their control. At the schools, Carruthers helps run the program. Carruthers’ presence in those classrooms is important, said Minteer.
“Representation matters, and it may be the first time those students see a woman in the role of scientist,” said Minteer. “Kelly Carruthers’ experience as a high school #STEM teacher inspires girls to consider science as a serious career. Kelly has a talent to reach out to young girls and help them visualize themselves as scientists—science needs more women.”