In response to criticism over women in STEM fields, Orr created a Women in STEM scholarship at Boise State University.
Ally Orr, a senior at Boise State University, has spent the last four years taking courses and studying long hours to pursue a career in Marketing. Originally from Vancouver, Washington, she decided to pursue her Bachelor’s degree out of her home state after receiving a generous scholarship from Boise State. The plan after graduation was to pursue a Master’s in data analytics. She was probably the last person she expected to establish a Women in STEM Scholarship at her university. However, circumstances led her to just that, and her story has gone viral. At a conference last fall, a Political Science professor at her university issued the opinion that women should not pursue majors or careers in STEM fields. Shocked by these statements, Orr leapt to action.The scholarship she started has been featured on Good Morning America and People Magazine; and now, she’s sharing her story with Fastweb members. Read on to see how this marketing-major-turned-women-in-STEM-advocate is using her time and energy to empower other women, in her own words. Why did you, as a marketing major, seek to create a scholarship opportunity for Women in STEM at Boise State? In the Boise State professor’s speech, he said that, “Our independent women seek their purpose in life in mid-level bureaucratic jobs like human resource management, environmental protection, and marketing. They’re more medicated, meddlesome, and quarrelsome than women need to be.”Hearing his speech as a marketing student, I felt shame and sadness at first. I had just listened to a professor talk for fifteen minutes about all the reasons why women shouldn’t pursue their passions in education, trade schools, and professional careers. His statements made me feel like all the time, energy, and money I had invested into college were for nothing. While I was disheartened that he had disrespected my career choice, that sadness quickly turned into anger when he stated, “Every effort must be made not to recruit women into engineering, but rather to recruit and demand more of men to become engineers, ditto for med school, and the law, and every trade.” Many of my closest friends who are women have chosen to pursue studies in engineering, medicine, and law. This statement was the tipping point of my anger, and when he posted a Twitter reply video to his original speech, and someone commented, “Someone should make a scholarship in his name,” I knew I had to do it.I felt powerless posting on my social media that he was wrong because I was in an echo chamber among my friends who were also upset, and we were not doing anything productive to counter his discriminatory statements. Did you ever expect that your efforts would go viral? I never expected the scholarship to go viral and make such an impact in so many lives. I have received so many kind messages from women across the nation and world describing the discrimination they have faced and how thankful they are that I stood up to this professor in a positive and productive manner. At the very beginning, I was scared the GoFundMe scholarship fund would not hit $10,000. To a establish a current, one-time scholarship at Boise State, you must raise a minimum of $10,000. To establish an endowed scholarship that would be distributed on an annual basis, I had to raise $25,000. I sent out emails to BSU staff and faculty throughout the night on December 2. The BSU community found out about the scholarship the morning of December 3, and by 7pm that same day we had raised $10,000. Seventy-two hours later, we had raised $25,000. I am still in shock and awe that our new goal is $200,000, and I know we are going to reach it soon. How long will you be raising financial support for this scholarship opportunity? I have been fundraising since December 3, while also going to school full-time, working part-time, and being involved in organizations on campus. While I am very proud of everything I have done, I am so excited to graduate and fully pass the fundraising torch onto BSU in May. I will always support this scholarship and will continue to bring attention to it, but I will not be fundraising at the level I am after May of 2022. I am planning on creating a separate scholarship outside of BSU that women nationwide can apply to. That is an incredibly large endeavor, and I don’t have any concrete plans, but I know I can do it. When is the Women in STEM Scholarship expected to go live? What are the qualifications for this Scholarship? Boise State scholarship applications open mid-November, and they close mid-February. Our first recipient of the “Women in STEM, Medicine, and Law” Scholarship will be announced at the end of April, and we will be having an event in-person where we will give out this scholarship to the chosen student. What does your role in creating this scholarship opportunity say about women supporting women? Throughout my entire life, I have always seen initiatives and campaigns with hashtags and slogans related to “women supporting women,” and while I knew it was important, I didn’t truly understand the depth and impact of its importance until now. Over the past few months, I have had so many women rally around me, encourage me, and offer me advice on how to move forward with this fundraising process. I sincerely could not have carried this scholarship both emotionally and physically without the many women in my life, both past and present. I will always need women in my life cheering me on, and I hope that women feel that support when they see this newly established scholarship. How has your college, Boise State, responded to this scholarship creation? After I had raised the minimum to open an endowed scholarship at BSU, I was eager to meet with the advancement services office and start the process of creating a scholarship. I was excited and thought I would be accepted with open arms, but I was met with uncertainty because of my age and the university's odd position in this matter. Boise State doesn't often have 22-year-old donors walk into their office eager to open a scholarship, so I was not taken seriously at first. I wasn't sure if Boise State would even accept the money, so I had a backup plan for the money to go to the same demographic of students, but to be held by a local nonprofit who could hand out the money to students. I enlisted the help of my uncle and one of my previous adjunct professors who is now retired, and we were able to create leverage to finally convince Boise State to listen to what I had to say and connect me with the right people to get the scholarship started. After this meeting, I was tasked with creating the criteria that would determine which students would be eligible for the scholarship for women in STEM. Has this scholarship and the attention it has been getting changed your personal trajectory for life after graduation? This scholarship has completely changed the trajectory of my life after graduation. I thought I wanted to pursue a master’s degree in data analytics after getting my Bachelor’s in marketing, but now I am leaning towards applying for law school. The process of creating a scholarship, especially under these circumstances, was anything but easy. We had to jump through endless legal hoops, which showed me how deeply rooted sexism is in this country. I would like to pursue law school in a couple of years and better understand structural issues that reinforce sexism, and hopefully use my law degree to help people navigate those kinds of legal issues. What would you like to communicate to women that are considering majors and careers in STEM? If you are considering pursuing STEM, there will always be people supporting you and people discouraging you from following your passion. Listen to the voices who are supporting you; they have your best interest in mind. Throughout this experience, I have felt so much support from people of all backgrounds, demographics, and locations across the world. I also never could have done this without my personal support system. Everyone needs a support system, especially those who are pushing past barriers and entering fields where they are not always welcomed. Find a support system who will rise to help guide, empower, and support you. What does the public response mean to you and to women that you’ve connected to throughout this process? The public response to my efforts in creating this scholarship continues to break and heal my heart. I save every single message women send me or comment online regarding the barriers and discrimination they have faced in education and their careers. When I find myself overwhelmed by fundraising and the other responsibilities I have, I reread these messages and remember the real “why” of this scholarship. This entire experience has allowed me to see both the worst and best sides of humanity, and I hold onto the amazing friendships I have made through this process. While this scholarship arose from a place of hurt, it is a shared hurt that has brought together over one thousand donors and many others online who have shared this story with their families, friends, and coworkers. This scholarship has given me a voice and a platform, as well as many other women, to share their stories and remind us that we have a long road ahead of us to ensure women are treated equally and given equal opportunities.