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June 29, 2010 > Women making leaps in STEM fields

Women making leaps in STEM fields

By Alissa Gwynn
Photos By courtesy of Heather Tremblay

"In America, you get a fair chance to do what you want," says Mirjana Vidacic, a Bosnian war refugee who recently graduated from DeVry University with a degree in Biomedical Engineering Technology. After coming to the United States in 2002, Vidacic persevered to overcome language barriers and financial difficulties, now working as a laser optical engineering technician at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL).

Growing up with a father as a Physics professor, it's no surprise that Vidacic's favorite subjects are math and chemistry. As a child, she was extremely curious about math and science, and would even try to solve the problems that her father gave his classes.

That curiosity carried on into her adult life, for at DeVry she "always wanted to learn more and more" and was the only woman in her field. With a very limited grasp of the English language, Vidacic had to work twice as hard as her peers to succeed. She says, "[The biggest challenge was] trying to read books, trying to understand what I needed to learn...For me, the most important thing was being able to ask questions and get answers...I didn't know how to express myself."

As it turned out, Vidacic graduated Magna Cum Laude and earned her spot as graduation commencement speaker at DeVry University's fall 2009 class in Fremont. Vidacic's story is notable not only because of her background, but also because of what her success signifies for women in STEM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics).

Men have always had the upper hand when it comes to jobs in technological and scientific fields. In fact, even though women make up nearly 50 percent of the American workforce, only 12-14 percent hold science and engineering jobs in business and industry. Even so, women are quickly gaining ground in scientific fields due to young women like Vidacic. For the first time ever, three women won scientific Nobels in 2009-Carol W. Greider and Elizabeth H. Blackburn, in physiology or medicine, and Ada E. Yonath in chemistry. Prior to 2009, only twelve women had won science Nobel Prizes, compared to 523 men that have received the honor.

DeVry University has been helping overcome this gender barrier by sending graduating women out into various math and science positions. Like Vidacic, Maria Inna Arandez, an entry level engineer at Mia Sole solar technology company, and Samantha Petro, a PC Engineer at Namco Networks, are DeVry graduates that have been dismantling the social stigmas that often hold young women back from pursuing careers in STEM fields.

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