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‘It actually empowers scientific discovery’: Oregon professors focus on equity, accessibility in STEM

Feb. 11 is International Day of Women and Girls in Science. KGW spoke to two University of Oregon professors who are inspiring the next generation.

EUGENE, Oregon — University of Oregon professors Nadia Singh and Ellen Eischen share a similar passion: expanding accessibility to science, technology, engineering and mathematics, commonly known as "STEM."

“Not only is it the right thing to do to make sure that everyone has a seat at the table and a voice at the table, it actually empowers scientific discovery,” said Singh. 

Singh is an associate professor of biology; Eischen is an associate professor of mathematics with a focus on number theory. 

“Math is in everything – it’s what’s making it possible for us to talk on Zoom right now,” she said in a virtual interview. “There’s math in the background.”

“My area of research is evolutionary biology. I’m specifically interested in evolutionary genetics,” Singh said.

Although their backgrounds are different, the way the work they do to teach people about STEM is similar. 

“I know for me personally, if I had seen more women in STEM, especially women in math in senior positions growing up, that would have made a huge difference,” Eischen said.  

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To help people see the beauty and creativity of math, as she does, Eischen brought an exhibit to the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art in Eugene. It is called “Creativity Counts” and has become the museum’s most visited virtual exhibit of all time.

Her unconventional techniques include improv, not necessarily to make jokes, but to connect, learn and communicate. 

“The underlying principles aren’t how to be funny, but how to listen to another person, how to understand what they’re saying, how to find patterns,” she said.

Singh said because she's a woman of color and a person in STEM, her journey has been characterized by exclusion. 

"And so now that I’m in this position of being a leader on campus and being a leader in my field, I feel like I have the privilege of speaking up for other people and I have the power to reduce barriers to access," she said. 

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That’s why she created Singh Lab, which takes a different approach to lab work, opening the door for more diversity in science.

“We strive for inclusivity in the Singh Lab… We came together and came up with a set of lab values together,” Singh said. “How do we live safety? How do we live inclusion? How do we live diversity?”

As two women with a passion for STEM, they're inspiring the next generation of female leaders.  

"It’s about asking questions, and anybody can do that regardless of their genetics, really, and what they look like,” Singh said.

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