Formally called “EngiQueers,” the organization has now expanded its focus to include students from all STEM majors at the University of Kentucky. Laura Marie Letellier, a lecturer in the First Year Engineering program, is the student organization’s faculty advisor. “These students tug at my heart strings,” said Letellier.
Letellier, who transitioned from male to female 27 years ago, began teaching at the UK College of Engineering in 2016. Because she teaches in the First Year Engineering program, she is known to most current engineering students at UK. When four students wanted to form the STEMgiQueers in the Fall 2018 semester, Letellier became their first advisor.
STEMgiQueers started meeting weekly immediately. Every other week, the meeting would host a guest speaker and the off weeks would be social. Past speakers have been Dr. Blackburn-Lynch from the First Year Engineering program, Dr. Goldsmith from the computer science department, former Lexington mayor Jim Gray and UK Police Department Lieutenant Andy Eilertson.
For K Week at the beginning of the Fall 2019 semester, STEMgiQueers hosted a Welcome Back dance party in the Gatton Student Center. Over 230 students showed up.
“It’s really important for us to have a presence at K Week. Sometimes, K Week is a new student’s first time on campus without their parents,” said Letellier. “Students are less likely to come talk to us when their parents are with them. During K Week, students come up to us and say, ‘I am part of this community, but I have never shared this with anyone,’ and we get to say, ‘Welcome to UK. We’re so glad you’re here.’ It’s really special.”
STEMgiQueers is looking forward to having a presence at K Week this August 2022. The COVID-19 pandemic took a serious hit on all student organizations. When STEMgiQueers began meeting in person again in the Fall 2021 semester, many of the active members and student leaders from the Spring 2020 semester had already graduated. “We’re looking forward to growing back to our pre-pandemic numbers,” said Letellier. “We always tell new students: If you have ever felt like you were the only person in the world like yourself, please come and join us. You are not alone.”