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Audience members shown from the back, watching on in a large auditorium.

Women Leaders in STEM: Challenges and Rewards

By Elana Roldan

The Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics presented “Women Leaders in STEM: Challenges and Rewards” on Wednesday, Dec. 13. The event was partially funded by the College of Science’s Gender Equity Leadership Fund, awarded to Biochemistry and Biophysics Head Elisar Barbar in early 2023 to implement projects for the advancement of women faculty and those assigned female at birth in the College.

Barbar was awarded $3K to launch tool- and strategy-focused workshops. The funding also went towards the goal of bringing a prominent speaker to Oregon State for a day-long workshop, which has now been accomplished with the upcoming event’s guest speaker, Angela Gronenborn.

Gronenborn, a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the head of the Department of Structural Biology at the University of Pittsburgh, opened the event with a talk on the status of women leaders in science. She currently serves as a Rosalind Franklin professor and chair as well as a distinguished professor of structural biology. Her work approaches human disease at the molecular and atomic levels, which she accomplishes through a melding of biophysics, biochemistry and chemistry. She spoke about her investment in mentorship and sponsorship of other women in science throughout her long career as a scientist.

A panel discussion followed with several key women science leaders at Oregon State alongside Barbar as the moderator. Panel members included Vice President for Research Irem Tumer, College of Science Dean Eleanor Feingold and College of Agricultural Sciences Dean Staci Simonich.

Tumer has achieved more than 20 years of internationally recognized research and has been deeply involved within the College of Engineering as a catalyst for increased awards, research funds and proposal submissions. She has prevailed in the many facets of research, ranging from strategy development to spearheading and management. Before her academic and administrative career, Tumer spent time in industry at NASA.

Feingold’s career began with an interdisciplinary bachelor’s degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology that fused math, writing and public policy. After receiving a Ph.D. in statistics from Stanford University, she went on to become a statistical geneticist and examine an array of topics including Alzheimer's disease, cleft lip and palate and human reproductive failure. Beyond research, she served in numerous chair and associate dean positions while working at the University of Pittsburgh, during which she installed novel programs that enriched student success.

With a Ph.D. in chemistry from Indiana University, Simonich has developed more than 100 peer-reviewed publications and continues to pursue an understanding of the fate, chemistry and transport of pesticides as well as other semi-volatile organic compounds. Her accolades range from the Roy F. Weston Environmental Chemistry Award to the Savery Outstanding Young Faculty Award from the College of Agricultural Sciences.

The panel shared their personal experiences as women in various STEM fields and the challenges they faced on their pathways to leadership. They wrapped the time by encouraging all people in STEM to invest in diversity and equity, as advances in STEM can serve everyone for the better when diverse perspectives are present.