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Westminster chemistry professor and biology student participate in outreach program for girls

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Posted on Thursday, January 5, 2023

Dr. Helen Boylan, professor of chemistry and director of Westminster College’s Center for the Environment, and junior biology major Erica Cunningham of Grove City, Pa., served as mentors in the annual Girls Engaging Mentors (GEM) event on Dec. 13, 2022, at Butler County Community College at Lawrence Crossing.

Sponsored by the Lawrence County School-to-Work Program, GEM’s mission is to inspire young girls to pursue careers in STEM fields or other non-traditional pathways. This year, GEM welcomed a total of 135 ninth grade girls from Ellwood, Neshannock, Laurel, Union, Shenango, Mohawk, New Castle, Riverside and Wilmington high schools and the Lawrence County Career and Technical Center.

During the presentation, Cunningham and Boylan, both first-generation college students, discussed their personal backgrounds and educational paths.

“There are many paths to take after high school and there is no right or wrong direction,” said Cunningham, who discussed the challenges and rewards of being a STEM major in college. She also encouraged the girls to get involved in their passions now. Cunningham, who has wanted to be a veterinarian since she was young, currently works part-time as a vet tech in a local veterinarian’s office and raises dwarf bunnies as her small business while going to school full time.

The pair also shared stories of family members who succeeded without college degrees.

“We spend time talking about choosing a college and strategies for success in college,” Boylan explained, “but we wanted to make it clear that college is not the only path to a successful career.”

Other female mentors at this year’s GEM event included a state trooper, an accountant, a pharmacist, and an information security specialist.  

Boylan joined the Westminster faculty in 2001. She earned her undergraduate degree from Westminster and her Ph.D. from Duquesne University.

For more information about the GEM experience, contact Boylan at 724-946-6293 or