Cal Poly oSTEM Fosters Inclusive Environment for LGBTQ+ Students

oSTEM officer team at a conference after receiving the Rookie Chapter of the Year Award
oSTEM officer team at a conference after receiving the Rookie Chapter of the Year Award

With a diversifying student population in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, a group of Cal Poly students wanted to make sure everyone felt included, especially in a space where LGBTQ+ identities can be overlooked. 

Students Paige Ross (mechanical engineering) and Bonnie Brown (engineering management) were looking to create a place on campus with inclusivity for all students. In 2022, Brown attended the national Out in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (oSTEM) professional development summit in Atlanta, Georgia. The weekend retreat aimed to empower early career LGBTQ+ professions in STEM through introspective workshops, authentic mentorship and a supportive community. Through the summit, Brown learned about the national oSTEM organization and how to bring oSTEM to Cal Poly in the form of establishing a university chapter. 

“There was a lack of space for queer individuals in STEM at Cal Poly,” said Ross, co-president of Cal Poly oSTEM. “We wanted to create a chapter on campus, so we worked together for the past year and connected with industry members. We wanted queer people in STEM to get to know each other through social events and networking opportunities.” 

Cal Poly oSTEM is home to 130 members, with about 50 to 75 members in attendance for their general meetings. 

The Cal Poly oSTEM board members have hosted icebreakers and member socials for people to get to know each other. One of their most recent projects was a pronoun campaign they implemented after seeing the lack of resources and discussions surrounding pronouns. 

“The pronoun campaign is ongoing with a specific focus of educating, influencing and supporting Cal Poly’s STEM students and faculty on the topic of pronouns,” Brown explained. 

As part of the outreach, oSTEM members are working to create buttons with pronouns for people to wear, along with creating instructional material for faculty members with education programming. 

“We applied for the IDEAS grant, and we were awarded funds to buy pins with pronouns,” Ross shared. 

The Engineering IDEAS Grants Competition is a Cal Poly College of Engineering initiative to assist in funding small student and faculty projects. 

“We have had breakout discussions among our club members and other students on how they feel about our outreach and what this campaign will do for them,” Ross said. 

“In our future pronoun campaign events, we plan on including faculty members to further the discussion of the topic and the impact of the campaign,” Brown explained. 

To advance their education surrounding inclusivity, Cal Poly oSTEM’s officer team traveled to Boston to attend the national oSTEM conference in November of 2022. 

“This conference is a space for LGBTQ+ students and professionals in STEM fields to share their experiences and learn from one another through programming, ranging from safer spaces to talk about queer issues to discussing the latest in research to networking opportunities,” Brown said.  

At the conference, the group was awarded the Rookie Chapter of the Year Award given to new oSTEM chapters nationwide. The recognition highlighted the chapter’s ability to cultivate a safe, innovative environment while creating a community that propelled the social and professional successes of their members. 

Cal Poly oSTEM previously partnered with Texas Instruments to host a workshop for students describing what it’s like to be queer in the workplace and the job opportunities available at the company. 

In addition to their campus outreach, Cal Poly oSTEM members plan to participate in the upcoming Camp PolyHacks event, a student-run, multidisciplinary hackathon dedicated to social entrepreneurship and human-centered design. 

“We are hoping to host our own hackathon in the spring,” Brown said. “We are also planning to have a spring gala.” 

“Creating a space is important to have these conversations with each other to not feel alone and have conversations with professors or industry members who might not think about that,” Ross explained. 

Cal Poly oSTEM meets biweekly on Tuesdays from 7 to 8 p.m. in the Bonderson Projects Center, Building 197, Room 104. You can learn more about Cal Poly oSTEM and stay up to date on their latest projects via Instagram

By Taylor Villanueva