As recently as 2015, women held only 17 percent of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics- related jobs in Kern County according to a report published by the Kern Community Foundation. National numbers weren’t much better and neither statistic sat well with Cheryl Scott ’88, ’18, a Kern County native and two-time graduate of CSU Bakersfield – most recently completing Extended Education’s Online Master of Science in Administration (MSA) program.
While serving as the Vice President of the Kern Economic Development Corporation (KEDC) and Executive Director of the Kern Economic Development Foundation (KEDF), Scott sought to combine several resources to help level the playing field for women in STEM in Kern County – including her own background and network, the mission and resources of the KEDF, and the opportunity for professional growth through the MSA program at CSUB.
What resulted was a significant step forward for Kern County – and it all started with a simple ask.
I’ve been blown away by the people that I work with in these programs that want to mentor and generously give of their time – and their money – to help advance women in STEM — Cheryl Scott
“My first class in the MSA program was Program Evaluation with Prof. Rebecca Jamison,” Scott recalled. “I asked her if instead of evaluating a program as my project [for the course], I could do a needs assessment for the KEDF. She said yes and it snowballed from there.”
Scott in her then recently-appointed role as Executive Director of the KEDF wanted to better define the mission of the organization and how it could better serve both employers and future employees.
“Given the low numbers of women in STEM nationwide and the lower numbers in Kern County, it seemed natural that [the foundation] focus on women in STEM as a launching point,” said Scott. “The project gave me the opportunity to talk to many of the women currently in STEM roles in Kern County – and they had a lot to say!
“Those early discussions really brought to light two issues – getting women started in STEM jobs, then keeping women in STEM jobs. Two related but distinct challenges.”
Three initiatives were born out of Scott’s KEDF needs assessment. First, the Women in STEM initiative, which seeks to provide mentoring, professional skill development, and career advancement opportunities to women in Kern County.
“Women have a lot going on – quite a few balls in the air, especially if they have a family or kids and are trying to manage and advance a career,” Scott said. “This group gives women a chance to connect and bond with other women with the goal of keeping everyone engaged and providing resources for advancement.”
The second initiative, the Kern County Women in STEM Circle, is a group of local women thought leaders in STEM that meets regularly to discuss the latest issues facing Kern women in STEM and how to best move women forward (an idea based on the 2013 book Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg, Chief Operating Officer at Facebook, and Nell Scovell).
“The Circle is a smaller group where discussions can really go anywhere,” said Scott. “Personal, professional, STEM-related or not – all with the goal of supporting one another through personal and industry challenges.”
The final initiative is a Girls STEM Mentoring Project piloted in the small Kern County town of Buttonwillow (about 30 miles west of downtown Bakersfield). The program seeks to increase girls’ participation in STEM education and careers through STEM-related on-campus activities and off-campus trips.
“Many young people don’t know what opportunities are out there unless their parents work in a particular industry or their teachers actively showcase different jobs,” said Scott. “That’s one of the reasons we put business and education together so often – so that teachers can know the latest in industry, and so business leaders can see first-hand the value of our local education system.”
The future for these programs and for women in STEM in Kern County is bright, but Scott knows the value these programs provide goes beyond statistical progress.
“I’ve been blown away by the people that I work with in these programs. They want to mentor and generously give of their time – and their money – to help advance women in STEM and, more generally, promote Kern County,” said Scott. “People really are Kern County’s greatest asset and there’s a huge group that really care and want to do everything they can to make sure the community succeeds.”
While Scott is not a STEM professional herself, she sees herself as a connector – bringing people from a variety of professional and educational backgrounds together in pursuit of a common goal.
“My background is in communications, public relations, marketing – not STEM,” notes Scott. “But that doesn’t mean people like me don’t have a significant role to play. I just try to get the right people together and let the magic happen.”
After almost 15 years with KEDC, Bakersfield College appointed Scott as Executive Director of the Bakersfield College Foundation in July 2020.