CPP women succeeding in male-dominated fields

By Raveena Rahman, March 26, 2024

In defiance of traditional gender norms, women at Cal Poly Pomona are shattering stereotypes and making significant strides in male-dominated fields, challenging perceptions and paving the way for gender inclusion on campus.

CPP student Seraiah Kinslow, professor Lauren Bricker and lecturer Linh Phan are living proof of women who are defying gender stereotypes by succeeding in STEM majors.

Seraiah Kinslow, a CPP student studying Biochemistry, received three scholarships within the College of Science due to her 3.4 GPA and  four semesters spent on chemical research, specifically focused on organic synthesis. She is currently researching organic synthesis of N-Methylisatin to study its potential uses for antibiotics with CPP professor Thomas Obsberger, an assistant professor in the College of Science.

Kinslow said being a woman and being Black has oftentimes gotten in the way of her success and she has to constantly remind herself she belongs at CPP.

Although Kinslow is a successful student with great achievements, she has had to overcome people questioning her abilities as a Black woman.

“There definitely has been a lot of hardships,” Kinslow said. “I think for me it’s more so that as a Black woman at Cal Poly in a male-dominated field. It definitely has been hard because there are times where I have to deal with people thinking that I don’t know what I’m doing or that they know what they are doing more than me.”

Among her other achievements, Kinslow is a National Science Foundation scholar through the Scholars Program in Research, Education & Science  that funds her research. According to CPP’s SPIRES webpage, SPIRES is run by the Science Educational Enhancement Services and aims to address the needs of the United States to produce more domestic STEM professionals.

Lauren Weiss Bricker is a professor at CPP teaching courses in architectural history and historic preservation in the College of Environmental Design since 1999, where she was also interim dean from 2019 to 2022.

Bricker is the director of feature works from the Archives Special Collections focusing on the growth of Modernism in southern California architecture and landscape architecture from the 1930s through the 1980s. Among the exhibitions, she curated “Francis Dean and the Art of Modern Landscape Architecture,” co-curated with Keiji Uesugi in the Department of Environmental Design.

However, as a woman, Bricker faced obstacles in her field in terms of not feeling heard.

“Not feeling heard doesn’t feel good,” Bricker said. “You feel a little bit marginalized, more than a little bit. Then when I became dean, I felt like I finally got my voice. Really, you’re in a leadership position and if you don’t exert yourself, you might as well not be in a leadership position.”

Additionally, Bricker authored “The Mediterranean House in America,” and published articles based on architecture and historic preservation. However, despite her publication record, Bricker describes her daughter and her marriage of 43 years as her biggest accomplishments.

“I’m a mom, so there are moments when you’re with students who are having a hard time,” Bricker said. “I think a little bit of that maternal instinct comes out. I think it’s important just to be compassionate whatever your gender is, but maybe as women we are more programmed to do that immediately.”

Bricker loves teaching at CPP because she believes that CPP students are among the most hardworking and humble students compared to other campuses.

“I just love them,” Bricker said. “I can tell when somebody is a Cal Poly student, somebody that I just meet at a cocktail party or something. They have something in their eyes that shows they are passionate about what they are doing. They are all very smart. They are here for a reason, and they don’t take it for granted.”

Linh Phan joined CPP as a lecturer for the physic and astronomy department in 2008.

While pursuing her career, she found that the most difficult part was having kids.

“It was a choice between do I go off straight away and get my Ph.D. or do I start a family,” Phan said. “A lot of women, especially back then, it was a choice you had to make.”

Since women have most of the responsibilities of taking care of kids. Phan said there have been times where she canceled classes to pick up her kid and times where she has had to bring her kids to school.

But even before her journey as a mother, she continued to face tribulation with the people who she sought to give her support.

Growing up, she was discouraged by her family to pursue physics. Phan moved to America from Vietnam when she was in the first grade. She had difficulties communicating with her family as an immigrant after she assimilated into American culture and began to forget Vietnamese, which made her family question her qualifications. There was a clear language barrier between her and her family, prompting her family to show hesitancy in Phan.

“My external family actually thought I was dumb,” Phan said. “When I decided to pursue physics, they were like, ‘Don’t do that. Your cousin who is a guy failed physics and everybody said that physics is really hard. You’re not going to be able to do physics because one you’re a girl and two you’re dumb.’”

Because of her upbringing, Phan often keeps to herself. She described herself as quiet and anti-social and said her colleagues were surprised by her capabilities.

Phan shocked her colleagues when she offered to help create videos on how to transition from in-person classes to online classes during the pandemic.

Despite how her family and colleagues viewed her, Phan was motivated to succeed.

Ultimately, Kinslow, Bricker and Linh Phan have all overcome obstacles being a woman in STEM. Kinslow struggled to feel like she belongs at CPP as a Black woman. Bricker felt unheard as a woman until she became interim dean at the College of Environmental Design. Phan had difficulties finding a balance between working and being a mother. Yet these women continue to obstruct the many barriers that pose to stand in the way of their success.

Feature image courtesy of Martino Pietropoli

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