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Stepping up: Connecting the next generation of female leaders in STEM

Photo of: Loise Perruchoud, Chemistry PhD student; Jacqueline Bermudez Computer Science Masters student; and Anne-Marie Sorrenti (MA 1995, JD 1999, PhD 2014) Leadership Consultant and Executive Coach, Sorrenti Leadership Consulting

L-R: Loise Perruchoud, Chemistry PhD student; Jacqueline Bermudez Computer Science Masters student; and Anne-Marie Sorrenti (MA 1995, JD 1999, PhD 2014) Leadership Consultant and Executive Coach, Sorrenti Leadership Consulting.

As more and more women pursue studies in the STEM fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics — career areas that traditionally have an “old boys’ club” reputation — support from and between women in those fields is essential. That is what made the 2015 Women in STEM Networking Reception so important.

Organized by the Faculty of Arts & Science in May, female students met with alumnae who have developed successful careers in the STEM fields within both academia and industry. The purpose of the event: prepare soon-to-be graduates for the transition to the professional world.

Host and alumna Anne-Marie Sorrenti (MA 1995, JD 1999, PhD 2014), a leadership consultant and executive coach, says that the event is a terrific way for these exceptional alumnae to meet and share their knowledge and experience with the next generation of leaders in the rapidly expanding STEM fields. “The STEM fields are the biggest growth areas for new jobs,” Sorrenti says. “As more women start careers in these fields, they have the opportunity to develop mentorship and support networks with other women in the industry, and I think it can only create a positive environment.”

The Women in STEM Networking Reception was a two-part process. Part one consisted of a workshop, which was conducted earlier in the academic year, focusing on developing soft skills required for the professional world. “Soft skills are teachable,” Sorrenti says, “and I’m thrilled to demystify them. It can be an intimidating process, but knowing how to communicate, in addition to having thorough analytical skills and scientific knowledge, is one of the cornerstones of leadership.”

Following the workshop component, participants took the soft skills that they developed and applied them in a networking situation. Patricia Thaine, a PhD candidate in computer science and acoustic forensics who one day hopes to start her own business, notes, “I’ve learned a lot at this event, both about the different paths that exist and how CEOs address problems that they’re faced with. This environment provides a great networking experience for meeting females who are leaders in their respective fields.”

In addition to the networking and mentorship opportunities, students also gain insight into how the knowledge they’ve acquired throughout their studies can make an impact outside of U of T. Katharine Sepp, CEO and co-founder of Oxalys Pharmaceuticals, points out that her participation in the event is as much about giving back as it is about her drive to spread scientific understanding and bring graduates into a larger community.

“I just love giving back, and I’m also very passionate about scientific outreach. I think science should translate to social benefit, and I can tell from tonight’s attendance that there’s a lot of interest in that,” Sepp says. “In addition to seeing themselves as part of a broader community outside of U of T, I think it’s important for tonight’s participants to harness what they’ve learned and have it translate into career success.”