Pioneer Spotlight: Tammy Salmon-Stephens
Tammy Salmon-Stephens is the director of the College of Engineering, Mathematics and Science Student Success Programs, which is made up of the EMS Advising, Women in EMS, CenterPOINT and Menominee Nation programs. She is a UW-Platteville alumna who majored in industrial engineering. She also holds a master’s degree in engineering and began her professional career with Perry Graphic Communications before returning to Platteville to work as a professional.
What sparked your interest in EMS? It actually started for me with one of my high school math teachers who asked me to think about considering engineering as a professional field. I didn’t understand it, so I originally said no way, but after researching for a bit and looking at colleges, I said yes. Some of my peers in math and music classes were going into the field, and so I thought, “Why can’t I?” At the time, I didn’t understand what it would mean to go into engineering – or that I would be one of only 34 women in my freshman UW-Platteville class of over 400 – but once I was committed, I decided that I was going to do it.
What did UW-Platteville look like when you first started studying engineering?
The student body was definitely a lot smaller. I came from a graduating senior high school class of only 30 students, so to me, UW-Platteville was pretty big. My home was about an hour away and had visited the campus before. As a first generation college student, value was important to me. UW-Platteville was affordable, and I knew I would receive a good education. I saw value and quality at this university.
What prompted your return to UW-Platteville as a professional? I worked in industry for three years after graduation, and when I received the notice of the position here, I was already considering switching my career in the direction of nonprofit organizations. At the time, I was ready to move on from Platteville, but the more I thought about it, I became more open to the idea. I started seeing Platteville as a community. In the field, I had experiences as a woman in a male dominated industry that spurred interest in me to return to Platteville and provide support. I started to reflect on how I felt as one of the only women in college and in industry, and now I can help others understand those feelings as well.
What are your goals for the College of EMS Student Success Program?
Our department is very unique because we are located directly in an academic unit. We help to link our students with other offices and departments external from ours. We help students to navigate university resources depending on their personal and academic needs. I am a strong believer in capacity building and making sure that the varying needs of students is addressed for them from a holistic perspective. For example, in CenterPOINT we have Peer Assisted Learners who help our students, but report to Writing and Tutoring Resources. I believe in building synergy with other campus services and entities, including faculty, so that our students feel supported and eventually attain a higher education degree. That is the goal I have with the program. I don’t want students to give up because they don’t feel welcomed or understand how to navigate higher education. We provide programs to champion our students through college.
What advice would you give to young women who are interested in pursuing a STEM field? I would say that the opportunity is available. Had I not taken classes with my math teacher and understood more about what engineering was I might not have pursued a career in it. It would be a terrible shame if someone shied away from a field of study because they didn’t understand it and later came to regret it.
Interview conducted by: Angela O'Brien, University Information and Communications.
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