by Tracey Gaffney
Marlys Pryor and I met in the staff room of the school where I worked. She was volunteering at my school’s science night, hosted by Sierra Nevada Journeys. Marlys noticed a sign-up sheet in the staff room requesting contact information for STEM professionals; our school was getting ready to put together a STEM career day. Marlys told me she’d be happy to help and handed me her card: Marlys Pryor, Retired Aeronautical Engineer. We became fast friends. Her passion, spunk, and sincerity are magnetic. Marlys may be retired, but she keeps very busy volunteering with STEM organizations in Northern Nevada and Northern California.
I recently sat down with Marlys to talk about the importance of women in STEM and invited Valeria Ampié, a University of Nevada, Reno student who is involved with the university’s new Women in STEM program, was recently elected to be UNR’s incoming Senator of the Division of Health Sciences, is majoring in speech pathology, and mentors incoming students. Marlys told Valeria and me about her time working as an aeronautical engineer. Women in engineering roles were so uncommon at the time, she once had an M-16 pointed in her face when she tried to walk onto an Air Force base for work, even though her flight line badge was prominently displayed! Another time, she traveled to England while working for Rolls-Royce and ended up in the General’s quarters last minute; they weren’t expecting a woman to show up and didn’t have housing available for a female, so she got the upgrade! More and more women are joining the STEM workforce since Marlys’s earlier experiences, but there is still a lingering stereotype that scientists, engineers, experts, etc. are male. (Muffet McGraw, Notre Dame basketball coach, recently went viral when she made the argument for more women in powerful roles.) Marlys, now retired, and Valeria, just starting her STEM career, mayhave different experiences in their STEM journeys, but both agree that women are underrepresented in STEM, and both of these women are working to change that.
Marlys has been doing STEM outreach for 40+years. She is not only involved with Sierra Nevada Journeys as a volunteer, she told us about her involvement with some other well-known organizations such as the Truckee Meadows and Reno chapters of Soroptomists International, Society of Women Engineers, MathCounts, and FIRSTNevada Robotics. Marlys’s view on STEM equity is refreshing. I asked her how she uses her volunteer experiences to advocate for women in STEM. She pointed out that she doesn’t just encourage girls to be involved in STEM; she engages both boys and girls, but understands the need for extra strategies to engage girls. She believes boys and girls need to be able to work together and benefit from that collaboration. Her advice for Valeria and all women in STEM? Pass on your love of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics wherever you go; be a role model.
Are you involved with mentoring women in STEM? Do you want to be involved? Visit Million Women Mentors for more information about mentoring, to tell us about your mentor program, and to find mentoring opportunities!