Once a month, Associate Mathematics Professor Dr. Valorie Zonnefeld shares lunch with the female Dordt math, statistics, data science, and actuarial science students.
This year, their usual meeting place in the Defender Grille was unavailable due to Dordt’s Covid-19 precautions, so they enjoyed pizza, drinks, and cookies in an open classroom and discussed their math classes and coursework.
“The research on people who stay in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields is pretty clear that people are more likely to remain in those fields if they feel that they belong in the STEM community and if they can see people like themselves who are successful,” explains Zonnefeld. She started hosting these lunches five or six years ago to foster the development of relationships between Dordt women in math and statistics.
Each lunch begins with introductions because there is always someone attending for the first time. Other than that, the lunches have no formal structure. Zonnefeld encourages students to talk about their math courses so that they are more likely to form study groups, get insight on what classes to take, and meet people who have already taken the class they are enrolled in.
The support systems that grow through these lunches help students feel less isolated, even if they are the only woman in one of their math classes.
Freshman Data Science Major Miranda Vander Berg says, “I was not in any math or statistics classes in my first semester, so these lunches introduced me to other females with similar interests. These lunches and Dordt’s Women in Science and Engineering club, which hosts regular social and career-oriented events, acknowledge that it’s important for us women to support each other and push each other to succeed.”
Anna McChesney, a junior math and secondary education major, says she appreciates the sense of community Zonnefeld has helped create.
“It has helped me feel comfortable in my male-dominated math classes, and it has provided me with connections to other math professors and to upperclass students who support me and to whom I can go to for advice. Because of these lunches, the professors, and the overall atmosphere of Dordt University, I feel supported, respected, and valued as a woman in STEM.”