Med Student Mentor: The Need for More Women in ScienceMay 29, 2014
As Miss Utah, Kara Arnold used her position to encourage women and girls to explore careers in STEM fields. Now a University of Utah medical student, Arnold discusses how she discovered her passion for medicine, what women can bring to the sciences and why it’s important for them to get involved in science.
Interviewer: When you ask little girls what they want to be when they grow up, what answer do you normally get? My guest wants to change that answer to something else. We'll talk about what that is next on The Scope.
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Interviewer: Kara Arnold is a first year medical student, soon to be second year medical student here at the University of Utah School of Medicine. She is also Miss Utah 2012. She participated in the Miss America pageant in 2012, and one of her passions that she wanted to spread to the world is something called STEM, which stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. You are all about encouraging women to explore opportunities in these fields. Normally, when you ask a little girl what they want to do, and maybe at one point, you said "a princess" or "a ballerina."
Kara Arnold: Absolutely.
Kara Arnold: Yeah.
Interviewer: But then later on in your life, you want to go into biochemistry. That's not what we're used to. Tell me about that.
Kara Arnold: It doesn't fit. I did want to be a ballerina, and I actually did ballet and danced my entire life. I also play the piano, so at a point I wanted to be a pianist. I had a lot of goals, and I felt like that was something that ultimately ended up where I am today. It's because I had just dreams and ideas that I wanted to chase.
So, when I was 12, I have this little interview in junior high, and they, like, tell you what you should be when you grow up. One of them said, "Doctor." I was, like, "That's cool. I think I'm smart." So I went and talked to my parents about it, and my dad encouraged it from day one.
When I got into college, I actually started out as a Music major because I still loved music, and I had an incredible teacher. We went for it, and I just realized that my passion did lie within medicine and within the sciences. So, I changed my practice and my scope, and I went into biochemistry mostly because of mentors.
Did I ever think that I was going to be a chemist? Absolutely not. But I definitely followed those people that were really mentoring me and giving me insight, goals, ideas, and direction. I think that's really important, it's to find those people that will give you the direction that you need to find what you're really good at. I ended up being really good at chemistry, so it was a great place to fall.
Interviewer: That's pretty awesome.
Kara Arnold: Yeah.
Interviewer: Tell me why are you so passionate about getting women involved in science, technology, and mathematics, fields traditionally where women are underrepresented?
Kara Arnold: I just feel like it's so empowering that little girls often don't have the confidence that they should have, that people should instill in them. So when I was Miss Utah, I often asked little girls what they wanted to be when they grow up, and I remember one little girl in particular that told me she wanted to do forensic science. She lit up when she told me this. She was just so excited about it, and I said, "Well, then go do it." And she said, "I can't."
I paused for a minute. I said, "Why not? Why can't you do what you want to do in life?" She said that her parents told her that she wasn't smart enough and she wasn't capable of going into such a difficult career. That broke my heart.
I had already chosen that I wanted to focus on STEM and especially girls in STEM, and here was this perfect example of who needs a mentor and who needs a role model and who needs someone to tell them that they are smart and they are capable of going into something like this. So, I knew that's why I was there, and I had chosen the right platform.
Interviewer: That must have blown your mind.
Kara Arnold: Yeah. I was lucky enough to come from a background of very supportive parents that both were full-time workers. My mom was a fifth grade teacher for the last 34 years. My dad works for the state of Utah. So, they were just blue collar workers, and they were very supportive and encouraging of my goals.
Interviewer: Yeah. So we heard one of the barriers, unfortunately, parents for whatever reason that said, "You're not smart enough." We don't know why, but what are some of the other barriers to women getting into these fields?
Kara Arnold: I like to say that there's not barriers because, you know, it's all a frame of mind. If we really try to focus on the barriers, they'll be there. It is difficult, and I think it's often to, you know, take the easy path than the road less traveled that's science.
Interviewer: Sure. Or it's maybe the expected that women will become teachers, they'll become stay-at-home moms, and they'll become nurses.
Kara Arnold: Yeah. But you can break out of the norm and do something that you want to go into because you want to.
Interviewer: Yeah. And absolutely you should break out of the norm. What do you think women can bring to the sciences? I know that sounded kind of, like, a snarky question. You know, from the very beginning, we're cutting out 50 percent of our population that could potentially be introducing ideas if we say, "Women shouldn't be in the sciences." But what other perspectives do you think women bring to the field?
Kara Arnold: Absolutely. When I was interviewing for Miss America, I really sat down and started thinking about these ideas of what I can bring to the field of medicine, and one of them was our nurturing nature. There's something that women bring into a group that changes the frame of mind and changes, in my perspective, the care of a patient. That's something that, you know, I think it's just in our genetics that we bring.
Interviewer: Yeah. Just the energy that women have.
Kara Arnold: Yes. This nurturing nature that we have and the frame of mind that we think in is different. So I think it's important to have those different types of thinking within a field because you're going to come up with bigger and better ideas if you have different perspectives.
Interviewer: Yeah. There's a lot of talk about working in teams and working in groups. You talk about diverse teams. You want to have diverse teams, and as you were saying that, it kind of dawned on me that we tend to think of different, maybe, ethnic groups or different religions, but we don't necessarily think in terms men and women.
Kara Arnold: Men and women.
Interviewer: As bringing diversity, but it really does.
Kara Arnold: I think that's what brings diversity more than anything. It's what we truly identify with and what we can really change.
Interviewer: How do you know if you've been successful in your goal that you mentioned?
Kara Arnold: I don't think I'll ever know, but just like that story of talking to the little girl, if my words went one step further and she was happier by one day, that's what really changes. If you can change one life, it's totally worth it.
Interviewer: Do you have any final thoughts for our listeners about women in science and technology?
Kara Arnold: Yeah. Get out there and be engaged. Be curious. There's a new campaign that Utah just started. It's called STEM Curiosity Unleashed, and we're just putting a lot of effort into getting people excited about sciences and all the opportunities and jobs that are available. You don't have to go into medicine, but it's definitely a way to express your ability within the sciences and just explore because there's so much out there to learn.
I think one of my favorite things about science is that you never can stop learning. There's always more to learn. There's always more to gather and to be curious about, and there's always more questions to ask. So start asking questions.
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