Sustainability Manager, Sara Popenhagen has been a staff member in the Office of Sustainability within Facilities Services since 2014 and is responsible for the University’s Sustainability Plan. She leads and manages projects in support of the plan, is responsible for University sustainability reporting, and works with students, faculty, and staff to integrate sustainability into campus operations and culture.
Popenhagen holds a Bachelor of Civil Engineering from the University of Minnesota–Twin Cities and a Master of Architectural Engineering from the Illinois Institute of Technology. This year, she established UChicago Women in STEM, a formal resource group to connect, network, engage and support female members of the University of Chicago and UChicago Medicine science, technology, engineering, and math community including faculty, staff, post-doctoral researchers, residents, and students in STEM.
When asked, why? Popenhagen recalled how isolated she felt as a woman in STEM during her undergraduate experience watching male study groups evolve around her while being left out and being in classes with very few other women. She explained how despairing and difficult it was to figure things out by herself while her male counterparts had the luxury of collaborating with one another and practicing that two heads are better than one. She never wanted anyone else to have that same feeling of isolation as a person in STEM.
In 2021, about two-thirds (65%) of those employed in STEM occupations were men, and about one-third (35%) were women according to National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics. Underrepresented minorities—Hispanics, Blacks, and American Indians or Alaska Natives—only represented close to a quarter (24%). Popenhagen would like to be a part of improving these statistics.
So that no one is left behind regardless of race, age, ethnicity, country of origin, gender, the status of as an individual with a disability, veteran status, genetic information, religious beliefs, sexual orientation, gender identity, or other protected classes, and to foster inclusivity and belonging, Popenhagen was empowered to create UChicago Women in STEM. In addition to pitching the idea to Central Human Resources and the Resource Group Steering Committee, 10 signatures supporting the thought were required. Like her college days, Popenhagen put in extra effort, and she acquired three times the required number of signatures. The committee approved and instated the resource group. As of today, the group has over 70 members and is actively recruiting more.
UChicago Women in STEM meets monthly and all are welcome. To join and for more information, please contact Sara Popenhagen at email@example.com.