oStem

Every month is an opportunity to celebrate Pride and the wide spectrum of history and experiences within the LGBTQ+ community, which includes those who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, asexual, and all other identities that fall under the gender and sexuality umbrella. 

 

As a first step towards honoring Pride, MEM is featuring some interviews with (i) the co-Presidents, Sky Bela [she/her/hers] and Thomas Limoges [he/him/his], of a new chapter of Out in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (oSTEM@Lehigh, https://www.ostem.org/ ) on campus and (ii) three undergraduate students in Mechanical Engineering who self-identify as LGBTQ+: Dom Ocampo [she/her or they/them], Aiden Galbraith [he/him/his],  and Travis Martinez [he/him/his]. These interviews were done with the support of the Lehigh Pride Center for Sexual Orientation & Gender Diversity . MEM looks forward to growing our partnership with The Pride Center and taking action to ensure our department is a place where people of all genders and sexualities are able to thrive as their full, authentic selves. 

Q&A with o-STEM co-Presidents Sky Bela and Thomas Limoges:
  1. What does Pride Month mean to you? As co-president to oSTEM, pride is about being able to take my whole self, and my true self anywhere.  It took me a long time to learn that being trans was a good thing, and a part of myself that I actually liked.  Having pride means bringing that part of me everywhere, even in school and in my career. -Thomas Limoges

  1. Why did you start oSTEM? The STEM field has a long history of being homophobic, racist, sexist, and transphobic. As a queer woman in STEM, I’ve been met with a lot of homophobic and sexist remarks from my peers and professors, and constantly felt “othered”. When I would talk about these experiences I was told to ignore the comments, focus on the science only, leave my identities at the door, and “they probably don’t mean any harm”. However, I realized that I shouldn’t have to separate my identities from my work and I shouldn’t be made uncomfortable in my own field because of these identities. The only people who understood and validated how I felt were the few LGBTQ+ friends I had in my field, but I recognized that not everybody had this support. When I learned about oSTEM from a conference I attended (CUWiP), I knew that many LGBTQ+ students at Lehigh would benefit from this. They would finally have a space that supported and celebrated their work in the STEM field without compromising their queer identities. - Sky Bela

  1. What advice or message would you like to send to the student community at large / RCEAS / or any other group on campus regarding oSTEM? oSTEM@Lehigh was not created to educate the Lehigh community on being LGBTQ+ in STEM. oSTEM@Lehigh was made by LGBTQ+ students in STEM for LGBTQ+ students in STEM. It was created to offer students the support they may not have gotten from their department or community (scholarship information, LGBTQ+ in STEM conferences, a space to unload and breathe, etc.). - Sky Bela

Q&A with recent MEM graduate Travis Martinez
  1. How did you first get interested in mechanical engineering? As cliche as it sounds I’ve always been interested in how things work; Buildings, bridges, computers, cameras, engines, lights, phones, etc. And at the same time I’ve always had a strong interest in the arts. My attention was captured by theatre, concerts, immersive exhibits, and anything else that felt magical, transportive, and impossible. It was from attending events like these that I started to notice a hidden world behind the scenes where engineering seemed to be taking place. An unspoken realm of large scale structural, mechanical, and electrical work. Motors, cabling, rigging and control systems. Lots of tracks, lifts, and special effects. Air-launched fireworks and water-cooled projections. Trusses hung fifty feet in the air holding hundreds of pounds of lighting and sound equipment; I wanted to know how it all worked and why. Thus, I realized a mechanical engineering education would provide me the chance to learn about, and experience, a little bit of everything that composed the backbone of these theatrical events that I found so fascinating.

  1. Tell us about your experiences as an LGBTQ+ student in the mechanical engineering department. My experience as a gay student in mechanical engineering and mechanics has been outstanding. In engineering you meet so many diverse individuals from various walks of life all trying to use their education and experience to accomplish something different. However, what seems to unify all these varying personal pursuits and projects being undertaken at Lehigh is the desire to change the world for the better. The mechanical engineering department houses some of the most brilliant, kindest, and most-caring professors I’ve had the honor of learning from and working with who all want to change the world for the better.

  1. What advice would you give your younger self? Explore. Trial and error is the foundation of everything that has ever been great. You won’t like every job or every class, but from those experiences you’ll be guided toward an even brighter future. So do not be afraid and learn to embrace exploration and change. Feeling worried is natural, and failure is expected. Every experience is a moment to better yourself. Take hold of the moment and make it what you want. Refine your talents and work on projects you care about. Do things that scare you, and always be yourself. You’ll find where you belong so don’t worry. Just have fun.

  1. What does Pride Month mean to you? Pride month is a time of love and compassion. It is the chance to see others like yourself and a reminder that you belong in the world. Pride means being loud and proud; A celebration of yourself,  friendship, and hope. It is a reminder to leave hate behind and to accept others for who they are and who they want to be. Pride is the unification of people from different walks of life, all wanting to change the world for the better. Doesn’t that sound familiar?

Q&A with MEM student Dom Ocampo
  1. What are your prefered pronouns? She/her or they/them

  2. How did you first get interested in mechanical engineering? I adore stagecraft. Everything about it interests me - from designing the sets to building the flats. Through IDEAS, however, I craved a broader understanding of the scenic design profession. Why is each piece built the way it is, and how can we ensure it's safe enough for the actors to interact in? This is what pointed me toward mechanical engineering my sophomore year, and I haven't looked back since!

  3. Tell us about your experiences as an LGBTQ+ student in the mechanical engineering department. Unfortunately, my queer identity feels very overlooked in Lehigh's engineering school in general. I've yet to attend a class where the professor so much as discloses their pronouns. Though we sometimes talk about the gender disparity in STEM fields, it stays isolated to binary discussions, and usually focuses on wage. Additionally, my experiences with my fellow peers in MechE have not always been so kind when it comes to identity. It may feel as though identity should be irrelevant in classroom settings, but during this pandemic, it is more relevant than ever. Everyone has struggled with feelings of isolation, grief, and depression in the past year - but the queer community has a unique experience. Queer people are statistically more likely to struggle with mental illness than their cis-hetero peers; trans people are dangerously vulnerable to attempts of suicide. Additionally, hate crimes are on the rise, and bills are being passed nationwide to invalidate the sexual orientations and gender identities of those who do not fit colonial ideals. I believe we all have a responsibility to hold space for students (and faculty!) who aren't doing so well - and to do so in a way that is informed by empathy and inclusion!

  4. What advice would you give your younger self? Stop caring about what other people think of you and start working on how you think of yourself. You are inherently worthy and deserve to live authentically. Once you believe that, everything else will fall into place - you'll seek the support you know you deserve, you'll find the friends who love who you are, and (most importantly!!) you'll become your own best friend. You are the person you spend the most time with, so why not get to know them?

  5. What does Pride Month mean to you? Support for the LGBTQ+ community should come year-round, but for me, Pride Month is a time when I can unabashedly and publicly celebrate myself and my friends. I spent a lot of my life hiding my identity from other people, so every parade that I attend and every march I get to go on is super special to me. The queer community still doesn't have a lot of things - but, at the very least, the month of June is ours <3

Q&A with Aiden Galbraith
  1. What are your prefered pronouns? he/him/his

  2. How did you first get interested in mechanical engineering? I was always good at math, and so people said I should do engineering. I’ve always loved Legos and building things, so that translates best to MechE. Paired with the IDEAS program, and eventually theatre and a dash of social justice, I feel like I’ve found my niche. 

  3. Tell us about your experiences as an LGBTQ+ student in the mechanical engineering department. My queerness very rarely comes up in the engineering department. That being said, I wouldn’t really expect it to, especially given the relatively small number of queer folx I know who are mechanical engineers. I know that I’m in a position of great privilege in this regard, being a cisgender, white, middle class man. I think even then, though, most of my closest interactions have been with the close friends I met outside of the MechE department (particularly in IDEAS), who just happen to also be mechanical engineers. 

  4. What advice would you give your younger self? Take those chances that you’re unsure about. Be more confident in yourself. Especially in recent years, I have been seeing a lot more people becoming comfortable with themselves and their relationships with others to come out, and I just wish my younger self could have gotten to that place sooner. 

  5. What does Pride Month mean to you? To me, pride month is a celebration of love in spite of all of the adversity the LGBTQ+ community has experienced, and a reminder of how far we still have to go. We not only have to normalize queerness in the wider world, but we need to conquer the divisions within the community, where intersections of identity make for greater disadvantages for communities within the greater LGBTQ+ community. The most prominent examples I can think of are the prejudice against BIPOC trans women and biphobia. 

Thank you to Sky Bela, Thomas Limoges, Travis Martinez, Dom Ocampo, Aiden Galbraith, and Director Scott Burden from the Lehigh Pride Center for Sexual Orientation & Gender Diversity !

If you have any questions or concerns about being an LGBTQ+ student, faculty, or staff member, best practices around recruitment/retention, and/or are considering joining the Lehigh campus community, please feel free to contact one of the following as a resource:

  1. Lehigh Pride Center

  2. oSTEM Lehigh

  3. The Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center

  4. Project Silk Lehigh Valley

  5. Local Transgender Resources

  6. The Trevor Project