APL Colloquium

December 4, 2020

Colloquium Topic: Breaking Down Barriers to Diversity and Inclusion in STEM

According to the National Science Foundation’s 2019 Report on Women, Minorities, and Persons with Disabilities in Science and Engineering, the percentage of women earning undergraduate degrees in engineering has hovered around 20% since the mid-1990s.

Persistent gender stereotypes lead to disparities in the development of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) interests between girls and boys. Thus, women are less likely to pursue STEM degrees and more likely to experience low self-efficacy in STEM subjects, which can lead to imposter syndrome or stereotype threat. These socially-induced individual obstacles may affect how women perceive and respond to institutional barriers commonplace in STEM departments such as underrepresentation, explicit and implicit biases, alienating cultures, and opaque grading policies. For women who are also members of a minority group, these problems are further exacerbated.

Although significant recent efforts have been made to encourage girls to enter the STEM pipeline and to foster communities for women in STEM, attempts to fix the leaky pipeline at the college level have been inadequate. The onus remains on women to adapt to traditional STEM educational environments. Moreover, many of these obstacles persist into the professional workplace, continuing to influence how the abilities and performance of women are perceived by themselves and their colleagues.

Through personal stories and data-driven research, Dr. Kerri Phillips and Sylvie DeLaHunt will discuss how undergraduate STEM programs can dismantle the institutional barriers that disproportionately discourage talented women. The speakers will provide recommendations for students and others seeking to mitigate or overcome individual and institutional obstacles. Additionally, they will share opportunities for all members of the STEM community to promote the inclusion and success of all students—interns, children, neighbors, etc.—and recent graduates.

The speakers encourage families to attend this talk. High school and college students, as well as recent graduates, may find the information particularly helpful.

Colloquium Speaker: Kerri Phillips and Sylvie DeLaHunt

Dr. Kerri Phillips is the Hypersonic Weapons Program Manager in the Force Projection Sector of the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL). She has a technical background in guidance, navigation, and control; flight testing; operations analysis; and system identification. Kerri was also a professor for the Johns Hopkins Whiting School of Engineering, having taught courses in the Mechanical Engineering and Technical Management Departments. Kerri is an Associate Fellow of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA), serves as the AIAA Region I Deputy Director for Public Policy, and recently completed her term as the AIAA Missile Systems Technical Committee Chair. Kerri is active in diversity and inclusion efforts, having served on the APL Women and Minority Advisory Council and the Air and Missile Defense Sector Diversity Resource Group, and she regularly participates in STEM outreach activities. In 2017, she gave a TEDx Talk focused on encouraging women to pursue their passions even in the face of obstacles. Kerri earned two B.S. degrees in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering (’07) and a Ph.D. in Aerospace Engineering (’11) all from West Virginia University. She also earned a M.S.E. in Systems Engineering (’15) from the Johns Hopkins University.

Sylvie DeLaHunt is a guidance, navigation, and control engineer and supervisor of the Future Weapon Concepts and Algorithms Section in APL’s Air and Missile Defense Sector. She is a member-at-large on APL’s Fostering Unity and Staff Empowerment (FUSE) Employee Resource Group and recently completed her term as president of the Society of Women Engineers affinity group at APL. As an active member of AIAA, Sylvie participates on the AIAA Missile Systems Technical Committee, Diversity Working Group, and Women of Aeronautics and Astronautics Committee. She is the recipient of a 2018 Johns Hopkins Diversity Recognition Award and was named one of Tomorrow’s Engineering Leaders: the 20 Twenties by Aviation Week in 2016. Sylvie earned her B.S. (’14) and M.S. (’16) degrees in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Maryland with the support of a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship.