Inclusive new science group starting on campus

Jordan Cone

On Monday, Jan 15 and Tuesday, Jan 16, two informational meetings were held for a new club on campus: iSTEM.
Senior Nila Kannankeril, a Biology/Pre-PA double major, came up with the idea for iSTEM while in microbiology class with Senior Ashton Hutcheson, a Biology major.
“I started thinking about how as someone who’s marginalized, I don’t really get that much encouragement to go into fields like STEM. So, we decided to research if there were any groups around the country that were encouraging marginalized people to be in STEM, and we found one in Wisconsin and decided to start one at Augie,” Kannankeril said.
To get their new club started, Kannankeril and Hutcheson filled out a form on Augie’s website. Within a day, Dean Campbell was in contact with them, expressing her interest in helping to get the club going.
When thinking of names for the club, the acronym STEM was obviously important, but the two wanted to add something to it.
“The word ‘inclusive’ meant a lot to us, and when we were thinking about names we thought about how that word was so important to the main goal of the group. So, we decided to call it iSTEM. That way the ‘i’ can represent inclusive, intersectional, and inquisitive,” Kannankeril said.
Professor Dara Wegman-Geedey of Biology is the group’s adviser. She agreed to be the adviser because, “I feel it’s important for students to have a space where they explore ideas about gender, diversity, and ability in the sciences. While I identify as a straight, white, cis woman, I have been studying/working in the sciences for almost four decades now, so I feel I can provide context on many issues, including ageism as a possible factor in discrimination among those working in the sciences.”
The pair of students then held two informational meetings on Monday and Tuesday of Week 7.
“It really meant a lot to me that a lot of people showed up,” Hutcheson said. “I think it really shows that this is something that is important on campus and that people do care, and it just takes starting a club to get conversations like this going.”
Though the name of the group is iSTEM, students who aren’t STEM majors are encouraged to join the club as well.
“When we talk about science for the ‘S’ in STEM, we really do mean all science which includes social science. So students at Augustana who are studying Women and Gender Studies, Sociology, Social Welfare, or Psychology–those are all things that we really want to include in this group,” Kannankeril said.
At meetings members can expect to read articles, have group discussions, sharing nights, and get GRE prep.
“Along with the sharing night idea, me and Nila thought that it was very important that at least a portion of our executive board was Safe Zone trained,” Hutcheson said. “We think in order to be organizing events for an inclusive group, it’s really important that we are allies and that we know how to appropriately talk about different things that are going on in people’s lives.”
Kannankeril and Hutcheson are especially excited for underclassmen to join the club, as they will be the ones to carry it on after the founders have graduated: “We are really excited about the potential growth that this club has on this campus,” Kannankeril said.
Sophomore Marissa Olson, a Biology and Public Health double major, attended one of the informational meetings.
“iSTEM is a great idea for a club, since it provides an inclusive environment for STEM fields. I hope that this club helps encourage women and minorities to pursue STEM field professions, and I’m excited to see what it has to offer,” Olson said.