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Celebrating the International Day of Women and Girls in Science

Highlighting women in science at CSU and beyond for International Day of Women and Girls in Science on Feb. 11

Written by: Abigail Preiszig

Feb. 11 marks the eighth International Day of Women and Girls in Science, a day to promote “full and equal access to and participation in science for women and girls, and further achieve gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls,” according to the United Nations.

This international day of observance is intended to put a much-needed focus on the gender gaps that have persisted throughout the years at all levels of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) disciplines — some of the fastest growing career fields. It is a day to advocate for, bring awareness to and inspire action toward this important global issue.

In the past two decades, efforts have been made to inspire and engage women in STEM, yet they continue to be excluded from and underrepresented in both leadership and technical positions. For example, it was found that female researchers tend to have shorter, less well-paid careers and that their work is underrepresented in high-profile journals. They are also passed over for promotions, less likely to be invited to speak on scientific panels and given smaller research grants than their male colleagues . Women represent 33% of all researchers, yet only 12% of members of the national science academies are women, according to a UNESCO Science Report.

Having women in science is important. It makes sure that their needs and perspectives are considered in research and development of products that impact daily life.

The inauguration of the International Day of Women and Girls in Science came on Dec. 22, 2015, after the World Women’s Health and Development forum in February of that year. It was at this forum, where most guests and speakers attending were women, that the topic of an international day of observance of women in science came to be.

In April, Her Royal Highness Princess Dr. Nisreen El-Hashemite, executive director of the Royal Academy of Science International Trust (RASIT), wrote a letter to the U.N. General Assembly requesting on behalf of all participants of the World Women’s Health and Development Forum that they take steps to declare Feb. 11 the International Day of Women and Girls in Science.

“From today, I very much hope that I will be called a scientist rather than a woman in science, and to be recognized by my achievements rather than my gender,” El-Hashemite said at the inauguration at the U.N. “Every Feb. 11, we celebrate the achievements of women, known and unknown, remembered and forgotten, who have forged the way for those of us in science today.”

The theme for this year's International Day of Women and Girls in Science is “Innovate. Demonstrate. Elevate. Advance. Sustain.” or “IDEAS: Bringing communities forward for sustainable and equitable development.” At a U.N. Headquarters event, participants will review the impact of clean water and sanitation; affordable and clean energy; industry, innovation and infrastructure; and sustainable cities and communities of fictitious communities.

To commemorate the International Day of Women and Girls in Science, The Vindicator connected with Cleveland State University scientists Kenya Wilcots, Abigail Ansah-Zame, Lauren Lottier and Hala Osman to discuss their research and what it means to be a woman in science.

*Responses have been edited for length and clarity*

Kenya Wilcots

Tell me a bit about your research?

My doctoral research focused on light-sensing photopigment melanopsin which has been associated with blue light recognition. Before my research, melanopsin was well-studied for its role in blue light detection and its behavioral implications on the human body. My research aimed to study the loss of melanopsin and its effects on the eye. My findings revealed melanopsin loss resulted in retinal damage.

What led you to this point in your career?

During my undergraduate matriculation, I found chemistry to be a challenging subject. The continuous challenge occupied my interest and inspired me to tutor others. Shortly after graduating, I sought to explore a career in teaching, prompting me to seek a graduate degree. I applied to Cleveland State University with the initial intention of pursuing a master’s degree. What attracted me to Cleveland State was the ability to seamlessly switch my discipline from biology to chemistry.

What inspired you to pursue this career path?

My inspiration to pursue this career path was the result of two very influential women in my life. My grandmother Alice and cousin Dr. Handford incessantly encouraged me to stay true to myself and have courage.

What does it mean to be a woman in science? What challenges or advantages have you faced?

To be a woman in science means bringing your unique understanding to your field of interest. Converting experience into innovation is the true advantage. I love functioning through my feminine lens, because it allows me to go beyond superficial interactions and explore the complexity of professional relationships creating valuable connections. As a woman in science, I can effortlessly harness my cooperative ability to lead and delegate with grace. I enjoy the ability to recognize emotional barriers and build meaningful and lifelong relationships.

What advice do you have for other women in STEM?

Stand in who you are and what you believe, integrity is unwavering.

Abigail Ansah-Zame

Tell me a bit about your research?

My research focuses on the role of certain enzymes and how they affect metabolic pathways. My aim is to find out if the enzyme our lab studies plays a role or not in metabolic syndrome.

What led you to this point in your career?

My career path hasn't been a straight route. I graduated with a Bachelor of Sciences in chemistry and worked in the manufacturing industry as a quality technician for two years. I didn't see myself growing there because it became a routine and not challenging so I decided to go back to graduate school, hence my enrollment in the clinical chemistry program.

What inspired you to pursue this career path?

I loved translational research, so when I first enrolled in the program, I talked to Dr. Kalafatis about research opportunities as a master’s student and his response inspired me so much into pursuing this career path. I switched from the master’s degree after my first semester to the Ph.D. I have met great mentors in my research career who have been so helpful for my success. My mom has no college degree, but she believes in higher education. I am originally from Ghana and growing up we didn't have much, so being here with all these opportunities inspires me to push forward and be a role model for my children and other women as well.

What does it mean to be a woman in science? What challenges or advantages have you faced?

It's amazing to be a woman pursuing a career in science. Here in Cleveland State, I haven't met any professor who is not interested in students' success. Every professor I have reached out to, be it with research or career questions, they are always available and willing to talk. I love talking to my female mentors and they give the greatest advice all the time: Dr. Bond, Dr. Weyman, Dr. DePaoli, Dr. Sandlers, Dr. Moravick and Dr. Traughber.

What advice do you have for other women in STEM?

You are amazing and you are doing a great job. Don't give up and enjoy the science.

Lauren Lottier

Lottier is currently doing rotations and is not doing specific research.

What led you to this point in your career?

After my first engineering introduction class, I fell in love with the problem-solving factor of engineering as well as all of the possibilities it held. There is so much imagination and creativity in the field. I learned all about design and development in my mechanical engineering undergrad at Youngstown State University and have built on my knowledge in the biomedical engineering field at Cleveland State University in my graduate studies.

What inspired you to pursue this career path?

Before being introduced to engineering, I always thought I wanted to be a doctor. I wanted to be able to help and improve the lives of others. While going through my mechanical engineering degree I knew there was something missing from it. When I learned about biomedical engineering, I knew it was the perfect bridge connecting engineering to the medical field and it served as my missing piece.

What does it mean to be a woman in science? What challenges or advantages have you faced?

Women make up such a small percentage of STEM fields and that number is even smaller for women of color. To be a woman of color in this field means so much to me. It often could feel very overwhelming and intimidating to be one of only a few females in classes. But, through the years, I learned how to turn my feelings into a driving factor, which was an advantage for me. This was something that really pushed me to be better, especially in undergrad when I was just getting started in the field.

What advice do you have for other women in STEM?

My advice would be to not let anyone make you feel inadequate. As long as you are happy and doing something you love, you should be able to be comfortable and confident in your field. One thing that really helped me to build my confidence was taking charge in group projects or other leadership roles. This forced me to find a voice and learn how to communicate better to help the group succeed.

I am so happy that more women are getting involved in STEM. I was not exposed to any STEM-related fields until my freshman year of college so seeing girls as young as elementary school age learning about and falling in love with STEM is amazing to me. I hope that all girls are able to see that it is 100% possible to occupy and succeed in male-dominated spaces.

Hala Osman

Tell me a bit about your research?

As a biomedical engineer the focus of my study was to develop quantitative and behavioral measures of responses to induced falls to assess fall risk and fall resistance. Such a practical biomechanical stability measure does not currently exist, and it will be a valuable tool for research and clinical work in falls prevention.

My doctoral research project combined the science of physical therapy and biomedical engineering to understand the mechanisms underlying recovery from a stroke to serve as the foundation for developing functional rehabilitation strategies that can offer stroke survivors a greater possibility of improvement.

Currently, I am working as a postdoctoral fellow to gain further expertise, skill, and efficiency to further my career to become an independent principal investigator mentoring young scientists, while contributing to the scientific community in better understanding stability / stroke rehabilitation research.

What inspired you to pursue this career path?

I have always been fascinated by biological science and engineering and I developed a passion and interest in the field of biomedical engineering, as it is truly a broad multidisciplinary area. I am interested in interdisciplinary research because it bridges the gap between clinical and engineering worlds with innovative solutions for critical problems. Throughout my pre- and post-doctoral research, my passion for improving the quality of life for others has only been strengthened. The people who inspire me the most are the same people I am working to help. Individuals who have limited mobility due to stroke deal with difficulties daily that to most people are trivial, and yet, they exhibit incredible ingenuity and perseverance. They inspire me to continue to innovate and are the source of my passion for research.

What does it mean to be a woman in science? What challenges or advantages have you faced?

It is no secret that women are put under pressure to take care of their family. As a mother of two young girls, I must be on my toes to prove to them that a woman can be and do many extraordinary things. As a female scientist, I want to be a role model for my girls and young scientists, and teach them how to thrive and achieve their full potential.

What advice do you have for other women in STEM?

My advice would be to always remember that a diversity of ideas is often essential to solving complex problems. Find strong mentors that you can lean on for career opportunities, professional advice and expanding your skill set. Together with a confident mindset and robust networking, you will be set up for success in STEM.

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