STORY BY COLTON WARREN
When head women’s basketball coach Jennie Barancyzk accepted her role as official spokesperson for a new statewide STEM initiative, she saw direct ties between Drake athletics and the goals for the new mentoring program.
“I think it’s the Drake way,” Barancyzk said. “You know, you throw yourself, you immerse yourself in the community, you immerse yourself into your field of choice, your profession, you have a passion about it. That’s really special.”
Barancyzk and Drake athletic director, Sandy Hatfield Clubb, joined Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds to announce the new program that will mentor young women in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields on Sept. 24. Drake will lead the coaches portion with a core of Iowa schools that include Iowa State, University of Iowa and Northern Iowa, as well as the Iowa Girl’s High School Union.
Hatfield Clubb was excited for Drake to be a part of an initiative that aims to empower women in under-represented professions.
“The STEM fields are so underpopulated by women, much like the field I am in is underpopulated by women, so I have a very personal connection to this … This is just a phenomenal opportunity,” Hatfield Clubb said.
The Iowa program will operate as a partnership with the national organization, Million Women Mentors, which has pledged to recruit one million mentors to advise young women and girls in STEM education and STEM professions.
Hatfield Clubb will sit on the executive council of the Iowa “Coaches Mentoring Challenge.”
Barancyzk said the national and local initiatives are the perfect opportunity for women to break into the STEM related professions.
“It’s going to give young women a chance to open their doors, open their eyes, to something they may not have known,” Barancyzk said. “And it’s life-changing.
“The focus (on STEM) is because women are behind in those fields. It’s something we need to be a part of.”
Specifically, Barancyzk will serve as the head spokesperson of the Iowa “Coaches Mentor Challenge,” and will be involved in releasing public statements, recruiting local mentors and all around raising awareness for the goals set out by the new program.
She said it is a chance for Drake to reach beyond athletics and influence the community in greater ways.
“To see that your uniform goes beyond just a basketball uniform, it’s putting on a lab coat and it’s going into the business world having a suit on. It’s becoming a judge. Whatever it is, that’s really important for young people to see,” Barancyzk said.
Barancyzk noted that it is time for “the women’s basketball coaches in the state of Iowa to realize we need to step up a little more in helping.” She, too, cited the divide in STEM fields between men and women as a motivation for change.
“Now, it is time to start talking about professions,” Barancyzk said.
Anyone in the community can register to become a mentor, and Barancyzk said her team will make a huge impact early on for young women.
“We have 12 people on our team that are incredible people, incredible women that do a great job in the classroom, beyond just basketball,” Barancyzk said. “We are doing whatever we can in the community, and I think this broadens us. This makes us make this community better, make this state better. And that’s why we are here.”
Iowa is the first state in the country to engage in a statewide initiative as a whole as part of the Million Women Mentors program. Iowa has committed to producing 5,000 or more mentors towards that million mentor mark in the next five years.
Mentors sign up to commit at least 20 hours a year to mentoring local young women. Mentees will range from 12 years old through high school, and the hope in Iowa is to expand beyond just women’s basketball in the future.
Barancyzk sees a unique dynamic offered by the partnership between the “Big Four” schools of Iowa.
“We’re not competing against each other in this. We’re competing for each other to get other people involved,” said Barancyzk. “It’s not always being better than, it’s ‘Let’s all do this together.’”