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The 2022 Women of UD

Beth Hart

Beth Hart




There is a disconnect between what Beth Hart knows to be true and what drives her work. She grew up with four sisters and no brothers, but the girls were expected “to do everything.” It never occurred to them otherwise. “We had to cut the grass and wash the dishes because it all needed to be done. I never saw the difference between what a woman could do and what a man could do.” In reality, Hart works tirelessly to provide women students access to the tools and the role models they need to earn their STEM degrees. “I think women talk to themselves very critically, often thinking ‘maybe I shouldn’t be here,’ and even switching their major because they didn’t have a support structure of role models and STEM community.” This tendency could have reached another level during the remote-learning part of the pandemic. “I knew there were a lot of women coming onto campus who were first-year students who would not have the opportunities to go to class and meet new people, to create those support structures they need and to develop a sense of interrelatedness. Taking (first-year) classes in your residence hall and not meeting other people just did not look like a success principle for me.”

Hart came through for all first-year Engineering students. As the coordinator for the 12 sections of EGR 103, Engineering Innovation and Design, offered in Fall 2020, she went to the classroom with a tape measure and schematically arranged face-to-face seating for all the registered students, while adhering to the prescribed 6-foot distance protocols. With these configurations, she said, “they had at least one class their first year they were attending in person, to see each other and meet other people.” Then, as testament to her determination to create support structures for women STEM students, Hart retooled the way members of her WISE ILLC (Women in Science and Engineering Integrated Living and Learning Community) experienced connection. 

Typically, Hart has a meeting each year with incoming women engineering students and their parents during Orientation Week, and tells them that even if they are not planning to live on a WISE floor, they still can participate in WISE events. As with everything else during the pandemic, these events had to be reimagined. “We did game nights over ZOOM, had outdoor ice skating time and formed intramural teams. We did as much as we could to get them to interact with each other within the COVID guidelines.” Some weeks, Hart arranged for the WISE group to receive candy and affirmations to keep their spirits up and boost their confidence. Peer-to-peer upper-class mentors joined WISE members on a “hot chocolate walk,” so they could get together to explore their goals for the spring semester. Hart believes all the effort was well worth it. “The women who lived on WISE floors (beginning in Fall 2020) seem to be thriving. They have really close friendships and STEM identities. We’ve noticed other first year students that didn’t experience strong community through programs such as WISE are struggling sophomore year now that everyone is back.”

Building relationships is especially important for women in STEM, Hart says. Prior to coming to UD, she worked in the engineering industry as a production manager. “When I first started, I was the only woman engineer at the plant. Then, when I moved into management roles, I was the only woman who wasn’t working out on the floor or in Human Resources. I always had that conversation in my head that I couldn't screw up.” She learned to navigate her industry through establishing relationships. “I’ve always had incredible relationships with the people I’ve worked with. I listened to what their problems were and to their complaints and tried to figure out a better way to do things. In return, they would help me do whatever I needed to get done.” Hart credits her parents for her ability to establish and maintain good relationships. “My mom just celebrated her 80th birthday, and I have such a close relationship with her. I am proud of her and also proud of this gift she’s given me.” As her mother gave to her, so does Hart give to her family. “I’m very proud of my four children and their success and I’m very grateful to my husband for his constant partnership."

Because of the connections and relationships Hart has built across the UD community, she feels certain the University will find a way to move past the uncertainty of this time. “UD faculty and staff care about our students. They care about the work they do.” She believes an important part of finding a way to move forward is to give people permission to let go of the old way of doing things and to do things differently. But, she says, that will not be easy. “I myself am still trying to maintain some of the old stuff and I just don’t have the capacity to maintain the old and the new. How do we pull positive things that we learned forward, and also think about how to adapt them again as we move from pandemic to endemic? I am confident with UD faculty and staff we will get there.”

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