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Conference addresses women in STEM

Pollie Holtham, assistant division manager of the Sabine River Authority, talks during the Women in STEM conference in the Setzer Student Center Ballroom A, Nov 8.  UP photo by Noah Dawlearn
Pollie Holtham, assistant division manager of the Sabine River Authority, talks during the Women in STEM conference in the Setzer Student Center Ballroom A, Nov 8. UP photo by Noah Dawlearn

The Women in STEM conference hosted by the Student Affiliates of the American Chemical Society was organized to address the need to encourage more women to enter science, technology, engineering and math fields.

The conference was held Nov. 8 in the Setzer Student Center Ballroom A.

The conference included several speakers who related their personal and professional experiences to help attendees become better acquainted with pursuing STEM careers and the challenges they might face.

Pollie Holtham, chemistry assistant and division manager for Sabine River Authority Environmental Services, who earned her bachelor’s in chemistry from Lamar in 1995, said being able gain real-world experience as a student was key to her success.

“I had many interests in high school, but always knew that I wanted to be involved in the science field as a career,” she said. “I was also able to participate in the entry summer research program sponsored by the Welsh Foundation, it was very exciting to work on a project without a defining outcome.

“It was a great experience in developing my skills for problem solving and working with a research team.”

Holtham said in her junior year of the chemistry program she was made aware of an opportunity to work as a student intern at the Texaco Research and Development Center in Port Arthur.

“I was lucky enough to be one of the students that was accepted,” she said. “I was so enthusiastic, I really wanted to get some experience in the work force. I will always be so grateful for that opportunity.”

Renuka Polimera, quality control lab supervisor at Total Petrochemicals and Refining, said it is easy to lose focus because science can be difficult to pursue, but the effort is worth it.

“Students who study science, it is very rare they do not get a job — there is so much demand for science,” Polimera said. “The field has job security, higher income, self-confidence and equanimity to women, and bridges the ethnic and gender gaps.

“Science is the same everywhere, though measurements may change, so you will have international job security. Science also enables the next generation for innovators, it plays a key role in the growth of economy, and is important for globalization.”

Carmen Neagu is a technical product specialist in Fourier transform infrared technology ABB, holds a bachelor’s in chemical engineering and a master’s in organic chemistry. She said attitude and mindset have a lot to do toward being successful in STEM occupations.

Neagu emphasized that women need to be assertive to be successful in a traditionally male-dominated field. She said she makes no apologies for the benefits women bring to the field.

“As women we are more qualified because our brains work amazingly,” she said. “We can do so many things at the same time. You’re beautiful. There is nobody like you. Have the courage to chase your goals because if you don’t do it, nobody will. Nobody is going to say, ‘Hey, I knew you were smart come work for my company.’

“You have to prove that you’re serious about this. You have to prove that you’re really smart. Nobody can empower you, you have to do that. You have to be better than you were today, when you wake up tomorrow.”

Caitlyn Clark, SAACS secretary, said it is important that young women like herself see successful women for motivation and inspiration.

“It’s very sad to me that only 6.6 percent of women are actually in the STEM field, and right now the United States itself is actually falling behind in our technology advancement,” she said. “I think it’s super important that we are able to teach young women in this field that they can do something and that they can be successful at that — and that’s what I got from today.”

For more information, contact 880-8267 or visit

Story by Tiana Johnson, UP contributor

Category: News