Author: Student Ambassador (Page 1 of 39)

Asians in STEM: Honourable yet onerous work | Katrina Lengsavath

I remember being in grade one, sitting at the kitchen table doing my math homework with my sweet grandma, or “Khun Ya.” Helping me in her lingual mosaic of Thai and English, we added and subtracted pencils, beads, and tamarind seeds. We snacked on pieces of fruit as we drew tallies and diagrams to practice my arithmetic after school.

I remember my grandpa, my “Khun Pu,” a man of few words, who would eagerly sit counting trains with me and my sister as they rumbled by the window of my grandparents’ seniors apartment. He taught me how to fold paper airplanes and boats, showing me how to achieve crisp, precise creases with the edge of my thumbnail. He emphasized to me that experts who designed these vessels for a living must also be very precise in their calculations and very smart. 

These are the memories that come to me when I ponder my early encounters with mathematics. Math and science were my favourite subjects during early school years, until I got my hands on chapter books. Storytelling and writing quickly became STEM’s rival in my life.

Katrina Lengsavath, third-year CMU student
Katrina Lengsavath, third-year CMU student

A familiar stereotype is that many Asian immigrant parents have persuasively prophetic voices over their children’s career paths, considering “doctor, lawyer, dentist” as the sacred trinity of occupational options. Other acceptable paths may include becoming a nurse, pharmacist, scientist, or engineer. Many Asians end up in such professions. 

According to Joan C. Williams et al. in The Atlantic, “…this belief has pervaded American pop culture and media for decades…Since the stereotype ostensibly is a compliment, there’s a temptation to think that pursuing careers in science, technology, math, and engineering is easier for Asian Americans.” At the end of the day, after our families struggled, escaping or immigrating to North America for safety or the potential of success, they want to see their kids succeed in the Western world.

Despite this stereotype and the prevalence of Asians in the sciences, Asians are disproportionately unacclaimed in these fields. How does this dichotomy exist?

Standards set by the National Institute of Health say people who identify as Asian overall are not underrepresented in STEM.* Research spearheaded by Yuh Nung Jan, professor and Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator at the University of California San Francisco, found that “Asian Americans, who make up about 7% of the U.S. population, are overrepresented in biomedical research in the United States, making up more than 20% of the field’s researchers. Yet [Jan] found that Asian scientists have received just 57 out of 838 [prestigious science] prizes included in the study, which only looked at American awards. Asian women scientists have fared far worse, receiving less than 1% of the prizes.”

More broadly, in a study conducted by the National Science Foundation in 2015, only a mere 4–6% of degree holders in science and engineering are BIPOC women and men, and such degree holders from BIPOC minority groups were less likely to receive federal grants or contracts than their White counterparts within research-intensive institutions.

This gender and racial disparity in STEM shows up in my education. I learned much about Austrian monk Gregor Mendel and his pea plants and Alexander Fleming for his discovery of penicillin, the very first antibiotic. Comparably, it wasn’t ages ago that Watson and Crick were called out for taking more credit than they should have for Rosalind Franklin’s confirmation of DNA’s double-helix shape. Further, many science students have probably studied Okazaki fragments in their classes. How commonly do people know that they were discovered in the 1960s by Tsuneko Okazaki, a molecular biologist and Japanese woman?

2023 Scientist in Residence Poster

Since the days of counting mandarin oranges at the kitchen table with my Khun Ya, I have grown into a young woman of colour pursuing sciences. I am currently a student serving on CMU’s faculty-run Science and Faith Initiatives Committee, and I’m thrilled that we are welcoming Dr. Francis Su into the CMU community as the very first BIPOC Scientist in Residence. 

Dr. Su is an American mathematician, Benediktsson-Karwa Professor of Mathematics at Harvey Mudd College, former president of the Mathematical Association of America, and author of Mathematics for Human Flourishing. I’m looking forward to his discussions on the challenges and opportunities for equity, diversity, and inclusion in mathematics and the sciences. How can we make STEM spaces more just for everyone? Dr. Su will also illuminate the beauty and humanity of mathematics helping us all flourish. I would encourage everyone to check out this year’s Scientist in Residence lecture series at CMU.

I never had to be convinced to like school or studying, and I was naturally inclined towards STEM. I am one of many other first-generation anomalies who never actually felt stereotypical pressure to become the Asian “doctor, lawyer, or dentist” growing up. What does it mean or represent, when I get to choose my fate and go into STEM, anyway? Dr. Su’s op-ed in the Los Angeles Times on the gender gap in STEM asserts how, “…a healthy diversity of deserving winners represents a community’s visible commitment to encouraging its least visible members, who may one day do great things.”

BIPOC individuals and women choosing to go into STEM, whether honourable or onerous, face a glass ceiling of systemic and social biases that hinder access and recognition for excellence in STEM. I don’t know if immigrant or BIPOC grandparents all over the world would have imagined that their grandkids, who they tutored in arithmetic with spoons and raisins in a country and language new to them, would grow up to choose the art of sciences. Students like me depend on initiatives that highlight and pay respect to the STEM achievements of ethnic minorities. Without a doubt, our successes will be their success story, too.

Katrina Lengsavath is a third-year Bachelor of Arts student, majoring in Arts and Science with concentrations in biochemistry and music. She also co-leads the CMU Science Students’ Association. Her writing here was inspired by Dr. Su’s op-ed in the Los Angeles Times.

* Some Asian subgroups may be underrepresented, such as Southeast Asians and Pacific Islanders. This observation from the National Institute of Health is based on an amalgamation of all Asian groups.

“It’s the people that make you feel at home” | Rosalyn Dao

I was always a quiet kid—quite aloof, utterly idealistic. My time was primarily spent wandering in my own head rather than engaging with the Big Wide World outside the closed doors. So it was no surprise that the idea of me spending my high school years abroad shocked my parents, even more so since I initiated it.

Studying abroad is inarguably a risky financial investment with the hope of securing a better future somewhere else far from home, but in the mind of a 13-year-old, the whole concept was stripped down to “travelling to Neverland” to see with my own eyes what is ever and what is never.

Soon, we found ourselves looking through different options, considering several hotspots for international students, and we picked Winnipeg due to the simple fact of it having lower costs of living. Winnipeg is a pleasant place once you’ve settled in and made amends with it. Now that I’m used to living here, it’s going to take some convincing to relocate anywhere else.

Rosalyn Dao

Despite being a high school graduate in Canada, it was not easy for me going through the transition to a post-secondary institution. Graduating is never an easy step for any of us, really. Not only is it a milestone of academic success, but also the gateway to adulthood. What is it like being an adult, anyway? Peers drifting away, days that seem to last for an eternity now that you’re working, the realization of unrealized dreams and aspirations? No. Most likely, you find yourself back at Base Zero (after ascending to a higher level, of course—it’s like playing games) with a new set of vital choices to make.

One can only imagine how difficult it must be for you—especially the international students—to deal with the additional amount of stress that comes with this trade-off. People handle this situation differently: attend university immediately after high school, take gap years to travel, take on part-time jobs, or learn a new skill. In my case: an uneventful graduation followed by a contagious global virus. Soon after, I fell into the lap of CMU. At Base Zero.

I had no expectations coming to CMU because this was not in my initial plan, yet I was welcomed by the sense of friendliness that is uncommon elsewhere. Despite the scale of our school, it seems like we are constantly working on something more significant than ourselves. Most decisions are made with the consideration of an individual to best accommodate everyone. There will always be someone to talk to if you feel lost. Community plays a crucial role in fostering self-growth and individuality, which is characteristic of the university.

Many foreign students grew up in urbanized areas of our home countries, which adds an extra layer of challenge to the adjustment phase at CMU, if not outright culture shock. It’s going to get easier; I promise. You will become more in-tune with the rhythm of this mid-sized city in the Canadian prairies and its people. Sometimes it’s the people that make you feel at home, not the house itself.

The 15-year-old me would never have imagined that I would be at CMU, writing this blog post. All living things depend on their environment to supply them with what they need. However, in order to thrive, they have to push themselves out of their comfort zone, just as a caterpillar sheds its cocoon and spreads its wings to become a butterfly or moth. The choice is yours.

I hope you find your place in this Big Wide World.

Rosalyn Dao is an international student in her first year of a Bachelor of Business Administration degree.

Returning to the classroom after 25 years | Janice Gibson

Coming back to university mid-life, I wasn’t sure what to expect. CMU was the obvious choice for me because of its smaller class sizes, more personal atmosphere, and the opportunity to pursue biblical studies. I remembered the vast isolation at the larger institutions I attended 25 years prior, and I was ready for a more local experience.

When I began at CMU, not only did I trade a large university for a smaller one, but I also changed fields of study. Once upon a time I studied mathematics and here I was enrolled in the social sciences. I did not anticipate the opportunity to learn from such exceptional professors whom I encountered at CMU. My favourite courses (which I highly recommend) were Interpersonal Communication, Positive Psychology, and The Pentateuch.

As much as I appreciate the chance to return to studying, I can’t help wishing I had just finished my degree the first time—but then I remember how much has changed in 25 years (and how much I dislike math). I often notice the date of academic publications and realize that I wouldn’t have encountered much of the ground-breaking material, even in the right faculty, if I had completed my degree in the 90s. Bessel van der Kolk’s book The Body Keeps the Score was not written then; neither was Karen O’Donnell & Katie Cross’s Feminist Trauma Theologies.

As well as up-to-date research information, another major advantage I have discovered to studying in 2022 is the paradigm shift in recognizing that we live in a post-colonial society. We of course lived in a post-colonial society back then too, but we did not routinely acknowledge how that negatively impacted our world. When I left university the first time, residential schools had not been shut down and ignorance surrounding Indigenous issues was commonplace.

I expected to enjoy studying at CMU; I like learning, discussing ideas, and being challenged. I expected to do well in my courses; I have always been a diligent student. I didn’t have any expectations regarding my classmates. My first year back coincided with the pandemic and the isolation felt completely normal to me. As classes started returning to campus, I began to get to know some of my fellow students. Through listening to their ideas and goals, I am developing an immense appreciation for this generation of young people.

I was not expecting to encounter an entire cohort of individuals with vision, passion, and commitment to a better world. I regularly meet young people, brimming with potential, receiving a high-quality education, and determined to shape the future. I hope my classmates complete their degrees and go on to improve the world… but if for some reason they can’t, I recommend coming back in 25 years.

Janice Gibson is a mature student in her third year of a Bachelor of Arts degree, majoring in social sciences with a counselling concentration.

Feeling grateful for growth at graduation | Cassidy Brown

Taanishi (Tawnsheh), Bon Matain (Bon Mah-tane), Cassidy Dishiniikashon (dish-i-nik-ah-shhun). Good morning, hello, my name is Cassidy. Entering CMU a total of 6 years ago, I would have never guessed that today I would be introducing myself in my ancestral language of Michif, which I think is indicative of the change I have undergone here.

I am in my fourth and final year of a Peace and Conflict Transformation Studies (PACTS) major, with a Biblical and Theological Studies minor. My CMU journey started in 2016, when I departed on the Outtatown program, bound for Guatemala.

At that point, my encounters with my faith had been fairly surface level, not really ever having been in any places where I was having to question it or think critically about it. In this way Outtatown challenged me. I felt confused as I encountered people from numerous different Christian backgrounds and ideas of what it meant to be a follower of Christ. It’s hard to deconstruct your faith when you don’t really have words for what you’re doing, but looking back, I know that’s what was happening. As hard as it was, I made it through with incredible friendship and community.

I took another year off school before starting my PACTS degree at CMU and I was enthralled. I won’t lie, high school for me was pretty miserable and tough for many reasons, so coming into CMU with 60% averages in my classes, I will never forget the feeling of my first A grade. My professors were people who not only encouraged me, but challenged me. It seems too cliché to say, but having personal relationships with my professors at CMU is really what I think helped me succeed. School was tough, but I was having a ball.

However, that’s not to say that my time here has been without its challenges and heartaches. In my second year, October 2019, CMU lost Taylor Pryor, who was on my Outtatown site and a good friend of mine. It was a loss that sent ripples of heartache and pain throughout the CMU community. But we held each other. My peers held me and I held them, and my professors were not only accommodating but held me with grace and care—for that I’m grateful.

Cassidy has taken up beading as a way of reconnecting with her culture. Her work is on Instagram @madewithmetislove

This time marked another important point in my CMU journey, and that was my discovery of my Métis identity and heritage. As is all too common for Métis families, racism led to a disconnect between my family and my culture. However, thanks to genealogical research and archives, my mom was able to pull the threads of my family and heritage together. I appreciate that CMU didn’t just accept me as I came into my Métis Mennonite identity, but was blessed to have friends and staff walking alongside me, encouraging me to pursue this, and supporting me.

My understanding of spirituality has expanded at CMU, as I’ve developed my relationship with Christ in community. This has happened over snack, in classrooms, and in the forest.

Preparing what I wanted to write today was a helpful thing to do, as we’re in the part of the semester where it’s easy to lose sight of the good things we’ve encountered here and just focus on surviving each day. I’ve come a long way, and as much as I will never miss how slow the last seven minutes in a class can drag on, I will never forget my love for this place and these people. I want to thank everyone for being a part of my journey: Maarsi and thank you.

Cassidy Brown is graduating this year with a Bachelor of Arts degree majoring in peace and conflict transformation studies.

Saying farewell to CMU | Christopher Epp

I’d like to begin by saying that I hope you’re doing really well. I really do mean that. I hope you’re managing to stay afloat as the semester comes to an end. Papers, assignments, finals, and summer job applications are just some of the stresses that students face in March and April.

If you’re a graduating student like myself, I’m sure there’s some uncertainty about what happens next year. What school are you going to go to? What sort of a job are you going to work? Either way, I want you to know that if you’re feeling stressed, your feelings are valid. School can be hard. So keep on doing your best and know that you are not alone.

Christopher is graduating in CMU’s class of 2022.

I am a graduating arts and science major, studying history and biology. Yes, those are very different subjects from each other, and yes, I love both of them. My time at CMU has been both meaningful and fulfilling.

In my history classes, I’ve had opportunities to explore the history of our earth and the people that live here. I’ve explored the history of many peoples, conflicts, successes, and failures. In my biology classes I’ve learned about the many mechanisms that allow life to exist. The complexity of structures that God has woven into creation leaves me in awe and wonder. I have enjoyed these classes.

Christopher (right) studied biology and history.

I know I only have a bit of space to write about my experiences at CMU. I could go on and on about classes (and the stress of classes) and the joys of living on campus. I could talk about the time I wrote a ten-page paper in a single evening; that was fun. However, what I really want to say—and I know this is probably going to be a little cheesy—is thank you to the staff and faculty of CMU.

As I was trying to think of an experience to write about in this blog post, I kept coming back to how thankful I am for the staff and faculty. The students make up the highest population of community at CMU, but the staff and faculty work so hard to make this a place where great community can exist.

The professors are so approachable. Often times they care about my learning more than even I care about my learning! I also live on campus, and I have seen how difficult it can be to maintain some of our buildings. The maintenance staff are so great; they are absolute LEGENDS. So, I applaud the professors, student life staff, advisors, maintenance staff, kitchen staff, and everyone else who works tirelessly to make CMU such a wonderful place. Thank you.

Christopher Epp is graduating this year with a Bachelor of Arts degree majoring in arts and science, with concentrations in biology and history.

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