STEM sisters 

Sisters Laura Dang (top), Kasey Wei (left), and Chloe Maciejewski making the Phi Sigma Rho hand symbol at the Phi Rho house.

STEM sisters

Engineering and science students find sisterhood and career guidance at Phi Sigma Rho, a sorority built just for them.

By Hannah Jackson ’24

 

On either side of the grand doors to the house, the sisters of Phi Sigma Rho are bubbling with excitement as their spring bid day party is about to begin. Inside, anticipation builds as sorority sisters prepare to open the doors and meet the new sisters waiting outside.

 

With photos of old and new members lining the walls of the entryway, it’s almost as if the sisters of years past are also ready to welcome the incoming class of future engineers and scientists. 

 

When the doors swing open, the house erupts in cheers. The new members are pulled into hugs—and something more. As members of Phi Sigma Rho, they will become STEM sisters for life. 

 

Phi Sigma Rho stands apart at Case Western Reserve University as a sorority for students pursuing degrees in engineering, science and mathematics. By fostering a passion for STEM, this social sorority helps members to push boundaries–with a supportive group of women cheering them on. 

 

Phi Sigma Rho gives women a place to learn and grow in fields where they are traditionally underrepresented. It may also help them to face the challenges that come with being a minority in the workplace.

 

“Phi Rho provides the best of both worlds: it’s a social sorority but has the aspects of a professional fraternity,” said Tejaswini Haraniya ’24, a materials science and engineering major and the sorority’s vice president of administration.

 

Members not only meet their biggest supporters, she said, but often their future colleagues. 

 

The sorority was founded at Purdue University in 1984 by a pair of engineering students. Unable to find a sorority respectful of the major time commitment of their degree programs, they formed their own. Today, there are more than 40 chapters across the country.

 

The Omicron chapter at CWRU emerged in 2003. It’s open to women and non-binary individuals who share a major or a passion for STEM. The sisters live in a distinctive red-brick house on Carlton Road, at the top of the Elephant Stairs on Murray Hill, on a part of campus that students call Southside.

 

Complete with tall wooden doors, a sunroom, and even a grand staircase, the house is the perfect place to engender a love for engineering and create a STEM support system, members say.

 

Sisters help each other with homework at the dining table, work through selecting courses together, and collaborate on career planning. Oftentimes, older members will help younger members learn about different fields, internships and job opportunities. 

 

“The support of upperclassmen in Phi Rho is unmatched,” said Esther Shin ’23, a computer science major. “People underestimate how hard being in STEM can be. Everyone in Phi Rho makes you feel validated to have these challenges.”

 

Meanwhile, the students can fall back on a strong alumni network. Haraniya finds that especially helpful.

 

“Our biggest resource is our alumni and their establishment in their fields,” she said. “It gives us unique access to professional resources that aren’t accessible to everyone on campus.”

 

Hillary Emer ’07, MS ’07, a Principal at Slalom Consulting in Raleigh, North Carolina, shares her expertise with the sorority through Resumania, a system that allows students to submit their resume for review by alumni. Emer, a member of the board of the Case Alumni Association, said she enjoys giving back to her sorority because of the fondness she has for her Phi Rho days and the connections she made with fellow engineers. 

 

“Phi Rho made me feel supported going through the process of engineering, which is such a hard challenge,” she said. “Now as a professional, I can see that knowing that I had other smart women around me was helpful.”

 

Chioma Onukwuire ’17, MEM ’18, said she taps her Phi Rho skills as a technical product manager for Cardinal Commerce and as an entrepreneur. She’s one of several alumni who reached out to welcome the new class of sisters.

 

“Phi Rho was the place I got my first leadership position and it taught me so much on how to collect feedback from others and to execute,” she said. “It also taught me that mistakes are just lessons in disguise, and I have carried that mentality into my work life.”

 

The organization also supports and sponsors a variety of service activities that often celebrate and hone STEM skills. For example, the sorority stages Phi Rho Your Boat, a cardboard boat racing competition, and Light the Night, a lantern release event. Both events raise money for the sorority’s national philanthropy, the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.

 

During Engineers Week, the sorority invites Case students to join a workshop in support of RePlay for Kids, a local nonprofit that reengineers toys for children with disabilities. 

 

Meanwhile, members experience camaraderie and support simply be walking into the Phi Ro house. The entryway and its grand staircase are bedecked with photos of sisters old and new. In this house, students need only look upon the wall to see the long line of women rooting for their success. 

The Phi Sigma Rho house stands atop Murray Hill on south campus.

The Phi Sigma Rho house is bedecked with momentos that herald its past.

Photos of sisters present and past fill the entryway and staircase.

“Our biggest resource is our alumni and their establishment in their fields."

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