Science without limits: Highlighting LGBTQIA+ voices in STEM

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As an independent research institution, Colorado State University knows science well because it knows no boundaries. CSU has a long history of research and scholarly research with diverse professionals working in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

However, LGBTQIA+ individuals make up approximately 20%. Less represented more than statistically expected in STEM fields. The representation and visibility of diverse identities in STEM fields has improved, but there is still work to be done.

LGBTQIA+ professionals in STEM fields are an active part of that effort at CSU, and their experiences help shape the progress being made on campus.

“Everybody has an academic path or graduate school or a Ph.D. path, but no matter what path you choose, there are people just like you who have achieved success. – German Parada, Senior Lecturer and Assistant Professor in the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering

Kayleigh Keller, who identifies as transgender, is an assistant professor in the Department of Statistics. She expressed that she was able to work with students and contribute to building a reputation in STEM.

“I think for me, I haven’t had any queer mentors in my academic career, and that’s something that I think has been a challenge for me,” Keller said. “One of my personal goals is to help what I can to grow and encourage that kind of community, so that people can have mentors or feel in STEM in a way that I haven’t in a long time.”

Understanding diverse backgrounds in the lab is a key part of teaching, said German Parada, senior lecturer and assistant professor in the chemical and biological engineering department.

“Part of our work in our classroom is to work as a team to teach students this dynamic,” Parada said. “To teach that this is going to happen: you’re going to be around diversity, so you have to learn how to work together. You have to know that we are all different, but we all have the same goal.”

Currently, Parada teaches an advanced undergraduate laboratory focused on applying theoretical concepts to research tools.

“My hope when I work here is that students look at me as a resource and see that someone with who I am can still achieve what they want,” Parada said. There are people who have achieved success.

Molly Gutilla, Ann An associate professor at the Colorado School of Public Health, echoed this sentiment, emphasizing the importance of visibility.

“Visibility in any kind of leadership — whether it’s in science or politics or anything — is very important,” Gutila said. “It allows other people to see people for who they are, and I think it allows people to see future versions of themselves.”

Gutila is an epidemiologist, which means she studies the patterns and causes of disease and harm in public health. Gutila identifies as a lesbian, and although she now comes out publicly as a member of the LGBTQIA+ community, she says she deliberately kept her identity private when she started her career.

“In science, I think you want your work to be good and respectable and make a difference,” Gutila said. “I think I was worried that when I was outside of my job, people would pay more attention to that person than my job.”

It was a survival tactic, Gutila said, but as she progressed in her career, her perspective changed.

“Later in my career and in school, I thought more and understood more about the importance of bringing your whole self to work,” Gutila said. “For me, there is some important modeling that I have decided to do. I want to be the scientist I wish I had seen when I was a student.

Finding Community was touched by many LGBTQIA+ professionals on campus, including Andy Kaplan, an assistant professor in the Department of Statistics.

“In this room, we have a lot of out, LGBTQ, wonderful people, and we can talk about anything,” Kaplan said. “I feel like statistics – at least the piece of statistics that I’ve found – is a very open and welcoming community. I feel like I found my people here.

This concept of finding community has been highlighted as an important part of development in STEM fields, and having a large community of LGBTQIA+ professionals is the most important thing you can do.

“My No. 1 piece of advice to anyone thinking of becoming a scientist is to get your people to help you grow,” Gutila said. “They’re out there, and I think queer-identifying scientists want to help other queer-identifying scientists or any marginalized identities. Know that we are here, we want to be helpful and create an inclusive culture for scientists, and I want to work together to do that.

Hannah Parcell in Or on Twitter @hannahparcells.

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