Pod of the Week - El Paso

Inspired by an article we wrote last year, the El Paso women recognized that their border community was uniquely positioned, and a pod could bring together people from many backgrounds with one goal in mind: to change perceptions of what a scientists looks like in their own community. While the pod is still in the early stages of growth, already they are finding creative ways to interact with their community - including a fossil hike! Thank you ladies for taking time to introduce your pod to us! 

Location: El Paso, TX

Number of women: 14 on email list, 5-7 regularly at meetings

Frequency of meeting: Once a month

Mission statement: We are still working on a cohesive mission statement, but our main goals are as follows:

  • Engage women at all levels of science education, from early schooling through university and beyond
  • Change the perception of who is a scientist, and what that looks like
  • Connect with other local women in science groups and help connect and promote shared goals
  • Identify and confront the expectations placed on women in science fields, especially the many layers of inequality and institutional discrimination that women regularly face

The El Paso pod had their first meeting in April. Was there anything specific that drove the leadership to start a pod?

We were inspired to start a pod in El Paso after learning about the global reach of 500 WS and especially by the “We Are Never Just Scientists” article that came out in Scientific American. The intersections of gender, race, ethnicity, socioeconomic and immigration status are ever-present parts of our identities that absolutely affect the success and recruitment of women in scientific disciplines. Our border community is unique in many ways, and there seemed to be a real need for this group here, especially for female students and faculty at the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP). We wanted to create and cultivate an informal meeting and mentoring space where scientists from diverse backgrounds would be welcomed and supported.

How did you come your mission and why is it relevant to your community today?

We have had two pod meetings where we discussed some collective goals for our organization and how we can fit into the needs of the El Paso community. We would love to build a network for women scientists in the border region and see better and broader representation of scientists, especially at local events and conferences. We also recognize the many expectations and limitations that specifically women face, both in our community and in society, and would like to support each other in our careers as well as diversify the perception of what a scientist looks like.

Your pod held an exciting fossil hike in May. Can you tell us a little more about this outreach event? Who was the audience and what was the outcome?

We have some great members from the UTEP Geology department that offered to lead a fossil walk as our first official pod event, welcoming all members of the community to learn more about the rocks in their backyard. Franklin Mountains State Park is the largest urban park in the nation and is a significant and iconic piece of El Paso. We feel that there is a lot of interest in learning more about the natural history of the Chihuahuan Desert here and we were excited to have 12 people including 2 very enthusiastic young children turn out for this women-led event! 


Do you have exciting initiatives lined up for 2018? If so, what are they and what are your goals in these initiatives?

We would like to continue our Science Hikes this year, for members that are interested in sharing their favorite topics with a broad audience to increase science literacy and exposure in El Paso. Our goals with these free community events are to utilize a diverse group of female scientists and our wonderful natural spaces to make science accessible, fun and engaging to people at all levels. This includes translating and presenting events in Spanish and reaching out to local advocacy and education groups, especially those working with children. We are also looking forward to engaging more members, including women in academia during the fall semester. We plan to present in freshman seminars as well as in elementary school classes, and possibly hosting “Science Nights” a la the Science Salons to promote our group, raise funds for worthy causes and get more people in the community excited about our favorite science topics!



Pod Leaders:

Cat Cort is an ecologist currently studying fungi, biocrusts, and nutrient cycling in the Chihuahuan Desert. Originally from upstate New York, she fell in love with the drylands of the western U.S. and its many unique and underappreciated organisms. She is grateful to have been warmly welcomed into the El Paso community while attending grad school at UTEP. She enjoys looking at lichen wherever she goes, hunting for wild edibles in the mountains, and exploring the beautiful sister cities of El Paso & Cd. Juarez by bike.

Kathleen Schaeffer is a second year PhD student at the University of Texas at El Paso. She is currently studying the effects of large scale land restoration practices on desert soils in the Chihuahuan Desert. After graduation, she wants to pursue a career in ecosystem conservation or restoration.