Provided by Women in Defense Palmetto Chapter (WID)
Pictured above (left to right): Cadets Lillian Layden and Catherine Guenther, 2020 Women in Defense Palmetto Chapter Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math Scholarship awardees
On a beautiful February day, representatives from the Women in Defense (WID) Palmetto Chapter headed to The Citadel to follow up with Cadets Lillian Layden and Catherine Guenther, the awardees of the WID 2020 Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) Scholarship.
Layden is a senior and double majoring in Computer Science and German with minors in Cybersecurity and Fine Arts, and a member of the U.S. Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps (AFROTC) at The Citadel. Guenther is a sophomore and is pursuing a degree in Mechanical Engineering and is also a member of AFROTC.
This academic year has been far from typical for the students. We asked Layden and Guenther whether they were on track with their goals, what unique challenges they faced this year, and what advice they would offer to other women pursuing STEM majors.
Both are on track with their ambitious goals despite restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Layden plans to commission with the USAF as a cybersecurity officer upon her graduation in May from The Citadel. She was on the dean’s list in the fall semester and is the vice commander of her AFROTC wing. Guenther has continued with her internship at the Naval Information Warfare Center (NIWC) Atlantic, where she has been able to apply fundamentals of engineering.
Campus life has new challenges such as students can’t go into each other’s rooms, and they can’t hang out with friends like they did previously. Classes have shifted to a hybrid format, adding to an already demanding year. Guenther said, “Online learning has been a major challenge. It’s difficult to sit behind a screen to learn. One day you are online, the next day you are in person.” Since many clubs have stopped meeting, Layden is no longer able to participate in Judo and choir.
Both women had advice for other females pursuing STEM majors. Guenther said, “You shouldn’t focus on what anyone says you can or can’t do.” Layden said, “A lot of times, you’re going to be the only woman in the room, and you have to own that and be proud of that. It’s going to be really intimidating at times. Remind yourself that you are here for yourself. You’re doing great things, you’re going to do a great job. Stay on track, set realistic goals, and work towards them.”
The WID Palmetto Chapter’s STEM Scholarship is an annual award for women attending South Carolina colleges or universities pursuing degrees in STEM fields. Two annual scholarships of up to $2,500 are available, one of which is reserved for a veteran/member of the military/ROTC participant. Scholarship awards are made according to financial need, academic achievement, faculty recommendation, recognition and honors, activities, and personal essay.
The WID Palmetto Chapter, based in Charleston, South Carolina, was founded March 13, 2009. Their goal is to provide networking and professional development opportunities to promote advancement and recognition of women in national defense and security, to support military service members, and to encourage partnerships between the local contractor community and Department of Defense agencies.
For more information, please email chapter officers at https://widpalmettochapter.org/contact-us/.