Welcome to our blog!

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Introduction to the Chicago Women in STEM Initiative's Blog!

Are you looking to meet fellow supportive women in STEM fields within the Chicago area? If so, you are in the right place. Welcome to the Chicago Women in STEM Initiative! Here you will find information about our mission, our future goals, and ongoing events.

But who are “we”? “We” is me and you, all the women (and men) that share the goal of equal opportunity in our society, and especially in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (if you wondered what STEM stands for). Although “we” share the same values, “we” are all very different, “we” are the collective of all our members. The purpose of this blog is to highlight and celebrate the amazing people who make up the Chicago Women in STEM Initiative by sharing their stories and achievements.

We hope our stories will serve as a motivation for women and girls considering STEM fields as a career, but also as a reminder to the women out there, that you are not alone. We hope to emphasize the importance of following one’s dreams no matter the gender barrier. As a collective group we can help pave the road for generations of women to come so that one day there will be equal representation of men and women in STEM.

Jenny Kopach

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As Science Olympiad Executive Director and Senior Vice President of Marketing Communications, I oversee the operations of Science Olympiad and manage sponsor program implementation with Fortune 500 businesses, government agencies, scientific associations and institutions of higher education.

Two of my proudest achievements have been developing the Science Olympiad Urban Schools Initiative and expanding the Elementary Science Olympiad. I was honored to organize six White House Science Fairs with the Obama White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and to act as Science Olympiad liaison to the Japan Science and Technology Agency.

I volunteer on many civic boards and committees including the Science Olympiad Executive Board, the Illinois Governor’s P-20 Council College and Career Readiness Committee, the Digital Manufacturing and Design Innovation Institute Workforce Development Committee and the NBC Telemundo Chicago Community Action Board. I’m a member of The Executives’ Club of Chicago, have served as Democratic Precinct Committeewoman for York Township in DuPage County for 12 years and am the Illinois State Chair for Million Women Mentors, a national initiative dedicated to expanding opportunities for women and girls in STEM. Senator Tammy Duckworth serves as our Honorary State Chair.

Through these positions, I strive to connect the dots between K-12, higher education and industry, creating workforce development programs, securing grants for underserved communities, and providing more opportunities for students who need help lighting a career pathway. I’ve written about bridging the STEM skills and gender gaps for ArcelorMittal and MENTOR and have spoken about the power of effective mentoring programs at four Million Women Mentors Summits in Washington, DC. Interested? Reach out to jrkopach@soinc.org

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Science Olympiad is a Chicago-area based, national non-profit organization founded in 1984 dedicated to improving the quality of K-12 STEM education, increasing student interest in science, creating a technologically literate workforce and providing recognition for outstanding achievement by both students and teachers. More than 230,000 secondary students on 7,900 teams from all 50 states competed in 450 regional, state and national Science Olympiad tournaments last year.

Luhan Tracy Zhou, MS

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I completed my B.A. in Psychology at the University of Rochester in 2014, which is where my passion for science and research began. I was a Head Research Assistant working with Dr. Jeremy Jamieson studying the impacts of stress on decisions, emotions, and performance. I then continued exploring my interest in the sciences through summer research with Dr. Elyse Bolterstein at Northeastern Illinois University where I was able to study DNA repair proteins and premature aging in Drosophila Melanogaster. These experiences together motivated me to pursue my lifelong interest in reproductive sciences and the medical field. Therefore, I matriculated into the Masters of Reproductive Science and Medicine program (MS-RSM) in The Graduate School of Northwestern University in fall of 2016. I joined the Duncan Laboratory in January of 2017, where my thesis research focused on the role of O-GlcNAcylation in oocytes from multiple species, including mouse, bovine, and human (First published: 21 February 2019, https://doi.org/10.1002/mrd.23131). During my time in the MS-RSM program, I received the Constance Campbell Memorial Research Award for my poster presented at the 2017 Reproductive Science and Medicine Summit. Additionally, I was a recipient of the Constance Campbell Trainee Travel Award for spring 2018. Finally, I am the first ever student to receive the Makowski Award for Most Outstanding MS-RSM Student in June 2018. Currently, I am the research lab manager for Dr. Francesca E. Duncan in the OB/GYN department in the Feinberg School of Medicine. Additionally, I am actively involved and participate with the Center for Reproductive Science at Northwestern University, MS-RSM program at Northwestern University, Society for the Study of Reproduction, Women’s Health Research Institute, and the Oncofertility Consortium. I am very eager to continue engaging with the Chicago Women in STEM Initiative as promoting and supporting women in science is of high importance to me.

International Women’s Day Symposium 2019

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Our 2nd annual Chicago Women in STEM Symposium took place on the International Women’s Day, March 8th, 2019 at Northwestern University – Chicago campus. The event gathered more than 100 graduate students, postdocs, faculty, staff, and professionals from universities across the Chicago area. Over the course of half the day, the theme of the event, “Implicit biases in STEM,” was dissected through a very well-received interactive workshop, a series of stimulating short talks from women leaders in STEM and medicine, and an illuminating keynote lecture about problems and potential solutions to implicit biases. One attendee specifically stated, “I felt so empowered after this meeting. It was exactly what I needed.” In fact, in our post-event survey, more than 80% of the participants reported high satisfaction with the symposium overall and more than two-thirds agreed that the event, and the workshop in particular, significantly increased their confidence in interrupting incidences of bias against themselves and others.

The one take home message from the symposium is that implicit biases manifest as an obstacle to gender diversity at many levels: in women’s working conditions, in terms of their under-representation at the higher echelons, and in research funding processes. They are perpetuated by both men and women whether they are aware of it or not. Therefore, becoming actively aware of our biases will help us overcome the limitations that those biases bring into our lives. Furthermore, a supportive network by colleagues and family is one of the highly recommended approaches to combat against imposter syndrome, a by-product of implicit biases. For example, Dr. Shikha Jain, one of the invited speakers, shared some of the scrutiny she faced at her earlier career stage and the appreciation she has for her father who has never ceased to support and believe in her. Finally, it is equally important to remain persistent despite adversity in academia and STEM. Drs. Ropella and Ka Yee Lee’s stories encouraged us all to be aware of our strengths and weaknesses and continue to nurture emotional intelligence. For instance, Dr. Ka Yee Lee suggested we might benefit from being a little more open with others about our losses by compiling an “alternative” CV of failures, which could inspire a colleague to shake off a rejection and serve as a reminder that our response to failure is a key part of being a scientist.

It has been increasingly recognized and agreed upon that women are under-represented in STEM and Medicine, particularly at advanced career stages and leadership roles. Given the strong evidence that unconscious bias is a driving force behind ongoing gender disparities in STEM, it is our hope that this symposium and many more in the future, together with our ongoing interdisciplinary mentoring network (STEM Circuits), will help increase public appreciation for women’s potential and continue spreading the sense of empowerment and solidarity among women in STEM.

written by Thao Pham

Haley E. Titus, PhD

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At the Miami University Leadershape Retreat in the summer of 2005 I defined my vision; to find a cure for Multiple Sclerosis (MS) as my mother has secondary progressive MS. The steps I have taken so far include graduating from Miami University with a minor in neuroscience and graduating from Wright State University with a Master’s in Science after performing research as part of Dr. Alvarez’s Lab with a project on the extent of reformation of inhibitory synapses on injured/regenerating neurons and alteration of their properties. I performed my dissertation research at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center as part of Dr. Nancy Ratner’s Lab with a project on disruption of white matter tracts in the central nervous system in gain of function Rasopathies.  Additionally, I have had the pleasure of serving on the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, Ohio Valley Chapter board and currently serve the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, Greater Illinois Chapter as a member of the associate board as Advocacy Chair. I am elated to work in the lab of Dr. Stephen D. Miller at Northwestern School of Medicine, in the department of Microbiology and Immunology as a post-doctoral fellow generously supported by the National Multiple Sclerosis Society (2015-2018).  My project on immunoregulatory and myelin repair therapeutics in T-Cell mediated mouse models of Multiple Sclerosis tests that combination therapy of immune regulation (i.e. only turning off the part of the immune system that is disrupted in MS) with myelin repair therapy could slow/ prevent further relapses and promote repair of damage. These pre-clinical trials may provide a novel and safe targeted approach that can be translated into effective disease-modifying therapies for MS patients. I intend to continue to work in translational medicine with a focus on remyelination and neuroimmunology.

Ana Moraes

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I am Ana Moraes, I am a Postdoctoral fellow at Northwestern University in the Materials Research Center. My research at NU is focused on the development of functional nanomaterial inks for integration in printable battery components. I am also currently involved with the NU Postdoctoral Association as a chair of the career and professional development committee at the Evanston campus. I was raised and educated in my home country and I earned my Ph.D. in Chemistry in 2015 at University of Campinas (Brazil), where I conducted studies on the synthesis and characterization of nanomaterials applied to advanced functional composites for biomedical applications. I was a curious child that questioned everything, very passionate about natural phenomena and scientific discoveries. And my parents, who do not have a college degree, were able to provide me with a lot of books, which opened a whole new world for me and sparked my interest in the STEM field. That said, I am the first person in my immediate family to attend university and the only one in my extended family to pursue a Ph.D. degree. As a scientist, I believe that knowledge and education are agents of change and transformation in our society. The Chicago Women in STEM is a supportive network that keeps me empowered to pursue my career.

Rungmai Limvorapitux

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My name is Rungmai Limvorapitux. I’m a chemistry PhD student in the Nguyen Group at Northwestern University. I am originally from Thailand. After receiving a scholarship from the Japanese government, I moved to Tokyo to pursue my bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering.  Work in STEM fields fascinated me on how it improves lives and inspired me to learn more about its applications, so I decided to continue my studies in the USA.  Here, I collaborate with groups of scientists and engineers to develop catalytic materials for one-pot tandem reactions that reduce costs and increase efficiency in chemical production processes.  My projects are supported by the Institute for Catalysis in Energy Processes (ICEP) which is funded by the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Basic Science.  My long-term goal is to discover and utilize innovation to solve real-world problems.  Specifically, I would like to apply my technical knowledge in chemistry and problem-solving skills to create solutions while having a deep understanding of market drivers and business.  The first big step in achieving your goals is to believe in your own ability and be able to express it to those around you.  I hope that as a part of the Chicago Women in STEM Initiative, we can support each other and foster a strong community of successful woman in science.

Blanca Gutierrez-Diaz

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I am a third year PhD student in the Driskill Graduate Program (DGP). I work in the Ntziachristos Lab that belongs the Biochemistry and Molecular Genetics Department and the Hematology and Oncology Department at downtown campus.My work focuses on how post-translational modifications, especially ubiquitination and deubiquitination, affects cancer progression and response to chemotherapy in T-cellacute lymphoblastic leukemia (T-ALL) patients. Recently we published a paper in Clinical Cancer Research describing the important role of a deubiquitinase called USP7 on stabilizing NOTCH1, one of the main proteins involved in T-ALL pathogenesis. This year I also successfully passed my qualifying exams and got approved my thesis proposal, so for this year I am looking forward to keep working on my first author paper.I was born and raised in Mexico and I am the first person in my family to pursue a PhD.As a Fulbright scholar one of my biggest dreams is to become a top Hematology-Oncology researcher that can foster beneficial US-Mexico collaborations.As a part of a minority group in Science (Latino woman) I found appealing the idea of STEM Circuits. I see these groups as an opportunity to get to know better the scientific community in our university, to learn from the experience of more senior members and hopefully inspire other people to stay strong and pursue their goals.

Just Jump!!​

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Greetings, my name is Dr. Claudia B. Späni, and I am currently a Postdoctoral Fellow in Professor Disterhoft’s laboratory at Northwestern University. Our lab investigates the effects aging has on our cognitive abilities. I currently serve as the Social Media Coordinator for the Chicago Women in STEM Initiative. As part of this position, I am responsible for LinkedIn, Twitter, and this blog.

My story starts in Switzerland, where I was born and raised. I always loved nature and animals, which motivated me to go to university and study biology. During my studies I became especially fascinated with behavior and neuroscience. When I was offered a Master’s position to study Alzheimer’s Disease, I didn’t have to think long before accepting this opportunity and I jumped right into it. It ended up being one of the best experiences of my life, and I stayed on to do my PhD in the same lab. Following my PhD, I decided to pursue a Postdoctoral position at the University of Kentucky in Lexington, KY, USA. I often get asked why I left Switzerland (which yes is absolutely beautiful). The obvious answer, of course, was to enhance my career, but it was also so much more than that. I welcomed this thrill of an adventure. I wanted to prove to myself that I could survive in a new country all by myself while building a successful career in science. Before I had the chance to doubt myself, I jumped again, without ever having been to Kentucky or even America before. And here I am, three years later in Chicago doing my second Postdoc. This experience helped me build my self-confidence and encouraged me to challenge myself. This personal motto has encouraged me to apply for new grants and positions in the scientific community. As of this January, I began serving as a member of the Board of Directors for the National Postdoctoral Association. I am excited and proud to be able to give something back to the postdoctoral community.

I believe that we can all try to “just jump” a little more and ignore that little voice of self-doubt in our head. By believing in ourselves and giving our very-best we have the chance to achieve the impossible and to reinvent what we really are capable of.

I look forward to meeting all of you brave, intelligent, and kind-hearted women joining the initiative! I hope like me you are able to find inspiration, and support amongst our ever-growing community. Because I think together, we can achieve great things, if we just dare to jump!