Women in StemThe Women in STEM Career Panel Tuesday drew dozens of female CSULB students to hear successful professionals share their experiences and advice. The panel, organized by STEM x: Sisters in Motion and the CSULB President’s Commission on the Status of Women, is the first in a hoped-for series.

“Women are underrepresented (in STEM) most of the time and it creates some difficulties and challenges,” said Melissa Norrbom, CSULB Student Life and Development Coordinator, adding that the series’ goal is “creating a network of women on campus to make women feel comfortable and figure out how to support them.”

Several of the panelists said they became interested in STEM just by chance.

Kasha Slowinska, a CSULB chemistry professor, said while growing up in Poland, a teacher sent her to a supposed detention that turned out to be a Chemistry Olympiad. Paleo Solutions CEO Geraldine Aron majored in geology on the recommendation of her sister-in-law and her love of the outdoors.

Nancy Imbery told her mother that instead of getting married and having children, she wanted to go to college and earn a graduate degree. While filling out her college app, Imbery came across the blank field for “major” and asked her mom how she should fill it out. “Put Engineering,” her mother yelled from the kitchen.

Later, when trying to determine what branch of engineering to study, she chose chemical engineering after hearing “a guy at a party” say it was the most difficult major. Imbery went on to earn her degree from CSULB in 1981 and recently retired from Tesoro. Working at refineries “had zero glamor, but was a great career,” she said.

When she graduated and entered the job market, Imbery felt being a woman helped her get hired. “It was a little crushing, but I was glad to have a job,” she said, adding that gender now takes a back seat to qualifications.

All three said despite the randomness of their STEM beginnings, they have enjoyed their careers.

“I blindly chose my major based on my love of the outdoors,” said Aron. “I’ve owned my own business for 12 years and have 35 employees. It turned out I truly love geology.”

With a passion for research, Slowinska worked several years at GE before teaching. Being a professor, she said, provides work-life balance and flexibility as a parent.

Sandra Labib, a 2014 CSULB civil engineering grad, attributes her career success to effective communication skills and tenacity. “If you know how to build relationships and know how to communicate, you can go everywhere in the world,” she said.

Now a project manager at The Disney Co., Labib began working at age 15. Although her work experience at Subway and coaching children was outside her major, it still demonstrated her discipline and work ethic. With strong recommendations from her advisers, Labib landed a year-round internship at Southern California Edison. It took seven months after submitting her resume to get called in for an interview at The Disney Co.

Labib said she was honest and straightforward during the interview and ended up being selected over two applicants with master’s degrees. “If you want it, you have to show people you want it,” she said.

Students can fill out an information form at BeachSync to stay up to date on future STEM x: Sisters in Motion events. Men and women are both welcome.