A photo of three women standing next to each other.
Jade Raspberry, a biomedical engineering major; Brandi Daniels, a counselor with the Division for Academic Success; and Jaylynn Seay, a forensic science major, are organizers for the inaugural STEM Career Expo. (Kevin Morley, Enterprise Marketing and Communications)

VCU’s new STEM Career Expo stems from students taking the lead

Event on Nov. 9 pulls together campus resources, offers networking opportunities and spotlights diversity.

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Spurred by undergraduates in a women’s leadership course, a new career expo at Virginia Commonwealth University will spotlight STEM resources that can serve students across both campuses.

The inaugural STEM Career Expo, set for Thursday, Nov. 9, from 1 to 4 p.m. at the University Student Commons Theater, is hosted by the Division for Academic Success and VCU Career Services. A career panel will be followed by half-hour breakout sessions on women in STEM, the future of the field and a career exploration activity – and the breakouts will be repeated so participants can attend more than one. A final segment will focus on student engagement and networking. Students should register on Handshake.

Event organizer Brandi Daniels, an adjunct professor in the VCU Honors College and counselor with the Division for Academic Success, said the idea grew out of student interest in bringing together the many programs and experts at VCU that can spur exploration of science, technology, engineering and math. In fall 2022, she was teaching a Women of Color Leadership Development class in which students were challenged to devise a leadership initiative in an area of interest.

“STEM was one of those areas, and the four-member team came up with an idea to have a STEM conference at VCU, because they felt like they needed support in finding everything in one place,” said Daniels, who secured funding for the expo from the VCU Foundation. “Even with all the rich resources that VCU has, sometimes students don’t know where to look or where to turn in finding a place to start.”

For Daniels, there’s a personal connection to the initiative. Growing up in Richmond, she was a student at Carver Elementary School and benefited from the Carver Promise program, which provided mentoring and introduction both to STEM and higher education.

“Being exposed to STEM enrichment lessons at Carver helped fuel my love and dedication to the education field,” said Daniels, who is pursuing a doctorate at the VCU School of Education.

Jaylynn Seay, a forensic science major in the College of Humanities and Sciences who helped envision and organize the expo, is particularly excited by the women in STEM panel. She said organizers want to highlight how “working in STEM isn’t an unachievable idea – but rather something that’s very realistic, especially now.”

“It’s giving me the motivation to keep going and that what I’m doing matters,” Seay said. “Seeing how these really successful women are willing to come back and speak and promote STEM, to me, makes me want to do the same thing in the future.”

Student organizer Jade Raspberry, a biomedical engineering major in the College of Engineering, also looks forward to the panel exploring the outlook for STEM.

“We’re always talking about promoting women in STEM, but when you actually get to see it in a community that’s really near to you, you’re like, ‘Oh, this could be me in the future,’” she said. “It’s going to add some proximity to it.”

Dina Garcia, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the VCU School of Population Health and panelist for the Women in STEM session, called the expo a promising venue for students to network with professionals and peers, and to speak with educational departments about academic growth opportunities.

“Women and individuals from minoritized racial and ethnic groups continue to be underrepresented in the STEM workforce,” Garcia said. “I will share my journey as a bilingual and bicultural Xicana scholar in a STEM academic position.”

She added that she was inspired by the student leaders who envisioned and helped organize the event.

“My hope,” Garcia said, “is that the STEM Career Expo will serve as a catalyst for us, as a campus community, to continue to mobilize toward addressing systemic racial and gender equity issues in STEM.”