Jennifer Owens honored for helping women become leaders in science and engineering

Jennifer Owens is committed to helping women pursue jobs in science and engineering where they can grow as leaders in their fields.

Owens, the director of academic student services in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Iowa State University, will be recognized this November for her service in the Program for Women in Science and Engineering (WiSE). The program reports to the Office of the Executive Vice President and Provost, which has named her a WiSE Champion in honor of her commitment.

Jennifer Owens

WiSE began thirty years ago at Iowa State by faculty and staff concerned about the underrepresentation and underutilization of women in science and engineering. Staff members collaborate with others on programming to increase the participation of women in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields.

"If we want women to be successful in nontraditional fields, they have to see other women who are successful," Owens said.

Owen's involvement in WiSE began nearly twenty years ago when she presented at the "Taking the Road Less Traveled" career exploration conference, a part of WiSE’s outreach to middle school and high school girls.

Owens wanted to show young women that there are many paths that they can take as scientists. She especially enjoyed the energy of the younger students.

"It was fun to see how excited they would get with different hands on activities," Owens said. "It would just really open their eyes to the things that were available to them."

A biologist by trade, she said her entire undergraduate and graduate experience went by without a single course in her content area taught by a female faculty member.

"That is one of the reasons I think it's important as a female scientist to give back to that community," she said.

For the past several years Owens has been a member of the WiSE Advisory Council, where she meets with other college and industry representatives to provide advice and recommendations to the WiSE director. She has played a role in extending the program beyond having more women in STEM fields to supporting and developing them as leaders in their fields.

"In the last twenty years we have made some gains in getting more people — more women — into these majors,” Owens said. “But for me that’s not enough. The next step is saying we're going to continue to have more women in these fields but now it's time to push them and support them to become leaders in their field."

The council has helped WiSE add more development experiences for members, including a leadership retreat, opportunities to serve as a mentor or role model and leadership recognition events. The council also advocates for WiSE staff members to give students the support they need to feel safe and valued while they’re at Iowa State.

As Owen's career shifted from research to advising, WiSE has helped her stay connected to the scientific community.

"In some ways I felt like I was losing my connection to science, to the field that I really loved and was attracted to," she said. "This personally has allowed me to stay connected to science as a field, but really more importantly to scientists: to watch young women really grow into that role of being a scientist and thinking of themselves as a scientist."

To find out more about WiSE and how you can be involved, visit their website here: http://www.wise.iastate.edu/homepage.html