Wake Forest integrating more women into STEM field

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WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. -- Olga Pierrakos was always a tinkerer.

“My mom tells the story of, as a toddler, I would take apart stuff – I could never put it back together, but I would take apart stuff,” she says. “So I would tinker but I did not know what an engineer was.”

She certainly does now, as she is chair of the new engineering department at Wake Forest University.

But Wake is doing it differently, calling on their 182 years as a liberal arts university and blending it with the engineering curriculum.

“So it’s bringing the liberal arts, the humanities – sociology, psychology and all the social sciences and truly understanding the human needs for the systems that we design,” Pierrakos said.

As a woman in engineering, Pierrakos is unusual. But she’s not out of the ordinary at WFU.

“When you see the program here, when three out of the founding four faculty members are women, that sends a certain message and it says all are welcome,” she said.

Including Meredith Vaughn.

“I’m interested in biomedical engineering,” Vaughn said.

As a freshman who went to the Weaver Academy high school in Greensboro, Meredith has an accomplished background in theater so the blending of liberal arts and engineering was attractive to her.

And, then, there is the fact that most of her teachers will be women too.

“Which I thought that was amazing and obviously the staff is – three out of four are women – and I just think that’s very proactive for Wake Forest to be integrating more women into the STEM field,” Vaughn said.

Although Vaughn acknowledges that men and women bring different perspectives to the field, she notes that: “You can’t just be defined by your gender. I mean, you have your whole family background. I’m a North Carolinian, I’m an only child, like, all that stuff defines me. And just having one thing define you is a bit ridiculous.”

So what do Pierrakos and Vaughn think of that memo that leaked from Google in which one of their engineers said women may not be as equipped to be in the field as men are? Find out, in this edition of the Buckley Report.