“It is important for both boys and girls to identify with women in STEM fields.”
“Engineering is about making the world a better place, and there are lots of ways to make it a better place.”
Growing up, Heather Hunt never heard that she couldn’t be a scientist or anything else she wanted to be. With a nuclear physicist for a father, and a systems engineer for a mother, a career in science was almost a forgone conclusion. While pursuing her undergraduate degree at Iowa State University, she found that women made up approximately half of her engineering major (Chemical Engineering) and a high percent of that department’s faculty. It wasn’t until she went to Caltech for graduate school in Chemical Engineering that she began to notice a dearth of women in her classes.
As she continued in her graduate career at Caltech, Hunt began to find that she didn’t have access to equipment and campus resources that her male counterparts did. They seemed to have an intuitive network of friends on campus that afforded them opportunities to share resources.
It was at this time, Hunt became aware of a Caltech’s Women Mentoring Women (WMW) program: a “program [that] matches postdoctoral scholars with upper-level graduate women and upper-level graduate women with first-year graduate women for a one-to-one mentoring experience. “Her involvement with WMW started with attending free Monday networking lunches, then to grew to include being a mentee, a mentor, and a member of their advisory board. Her experiences with WMW led her to see that there was an issue of representation of women in STEM graduate programs across the country. The problem included access to resources, poor treatment and advising, and that it was the norm, not the exception. This spurred Hunt to get more involved in supporting women in STEM fields: “The more I did, the more I saw it was important. The more I saw it was important, the more I wanted to do.”
When Hunt came to MU, she focused on the recruitment and retention of women in STEM and brought a piece of her Caltech experience with her. She has been instrumental in developing the College of Engineering Mizzou Women Mentoring Women (MWMW) Program, for which she is the faculty advisor, and she is heavily involved with the Mizzou chapter of the Society for Women Engineers.
When asked why fixing the “leaky pipeline” of women in STEM was so important, Hunt gave a clearly engineering answer: “There is a HUGE economic loss to the US by not having women in STEM fields; [morevoer] engineering is about making the world a better place, and there are lots of ways to make it a better place.” Hunt enjoys working with these organizations because it keeps her in touch with students and their issues and experiences, which informs her teaching and her mentoring. In addition to her work with MWMW and SWE, she has also participated in summer engineering camps for high school students, because “it is important for both boys and girls to identify with women in STEM fields.”
Heather Hunt found her life’s passion in engineering and mentoring others, and she has turned that passion into a successful academic career and phenomenal broader impacts.