‘Knowledge is your best opportunity to move forward:’ Panelists discuss experiences in STEM 


Jaycie Nelson

Pamela Roberts, a systems engineer at Spirit Aerospace System, discusses being a woman in STEM at the CAC theater on Thursday, Feb. 2.

Four individuals came to Wichita State to discuss their experiences in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics). While the event was advertised as a panel of women in STEM, only three were women, with one individual being non-binary.

On Thursday night in the CAC theater, the Student Activities Council, Office of Diversity and Inclusion, SWE, NSBE and FOCUS, hosted a panel before showing the movie “Hidden Figures.”

The movie is based on a true story of three African American women — Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson and Dorothy Vaughan — who worked at NASA in the 1960s. The movie shows them tackling racial barriers, and navigating being a woman in a male-dominated industry.

Individuals on the panel

With over 35 years in the STEM field, Pamela Roberts, a systems engineer at Spirit Aerospace systems, loves what she does and continues to learn every day. 

“I love to go out and teach young people, as young as possible, to let them know there’s an opportunity that everyone can do math,” Roberts said. “All you have to do is study and work at it, and it is an opportunity for you to continuously grow and grow and grow.”

Aubrey Wolf, a mathematics professor at WSU, has been in classrooms for the last 12 years, with three of them as a full-time teacher. Wolf loves the beauty of STEM because of how it all works with applied mathematics. 

Cheyenne Morrison, a graduate teaching assistant at WSU, originally started as an aerospace engineering major but switched to mathematics after taking a linear algebra class for a minor. 

“There’s something really innately human about wanting to understand the world and wanting to know why things are happening,” Morrison said. 

Jamie Swan, a graduate teaching assistant at WSU, worked as an engineer for 10 years before coming back to school to pursue their original interest in mathematics and belief that STEM can create a better future. 

Despite their love of the field, the panelists also discussed some issues they have faced, like difference in pay and being treated unfairly.

Morrison said she’s had really positive experiences working with men and also ones that weren’t. 

“(I) had experiences in the workplace where I’m angry, and men are like ‘that’s not acceptable, you really need to calm down. You’re just being really emotional,’” Morrison said. 

Wolf said many of her negative experiences stemmed from her mother.

“When I started going to school (she) would tell me that I couldn’t do it, and that I should quit,” Wolf said. “Now, I have a master’s in mathematics.” 

Wolf said she had to find a support system of people that encouraged her. 

Roberts was the only Black female in a predominately white society. Early in her career, she started signing her name “PW Roberts,” so people wouldn’t make assumptions based on her gender.

“Now, that doesn’t bother me because I know who I am and I know how to move forward without having to do that,” Roberts said. “I think our generation of men and allies have changed. I think we’re getting a more supportive generation of men in society and engineering.”

Roberts has used STEM as an endless opportunity to learn.

“Knowledge is your best opportunity to move forward. No one can take that away,” Roberts said.