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.

written by Claudia B. Späni, PhD, Social Media Coordinator

 

Isabel Gippo

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Hello! I am a second year undergraduate student at Northwestern University. I am originally from St. Louis and found an interest in STEM at an early age. My unwavering curiosity for how things worked never subsided and I now find myself pursuing a degree in Neuroscience with an emphasis in Biology and a minor in Chemistry. I currently work under Colleen Zaccard, a research assistant professor in the Department of Physiology at Northwestern and co-founder of the Chicago Women in STEM Initiative. We are working to analyze the relationship between spinule formation in dendrite spines and the presence of Ankyrin-G and TGF-β, assessing their role in neuronal connectivity. I am also interested in starting the undergraduate branch of the Initiative in an attempt to extend this community of successful women to a group of aspiring undergraduate students. The undergraduate branch would aim to uplift women in STEM much like the original branch, providing opportunities for career exploration, research experiences, and mentorship from seasoned women in the field.  

Professionally, I would like to pursue a career in STEM that fulfills my childhood curiosity for the unknown. Since I am an undergraduate student, I still have time to decipher which career path will suit me best, but continue to learn and grow from the experiences of the women in this Initiative. Most importantly, the Chicago Women in STEM Initiative has allowed me to find a community of women who share similar passions and goals, ultimately providing mentorship and guidance that will positively impact my career.

Yexinyu (Yolanda) Yang, BA

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My name is Yexinyu (Yolanda) Yang, and I am a clinical psychology graduate student in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. I am currently working as a graduate research assistant at Mental Health Services and Policy Program with Dr. Heather Risser. My research focuses on studying how familial factors (e.g., parenting behaviors) may impact children’s development and psychopathology, implementing a family navigator program to improve family service utilization, and developing digital transdiagnostic family-based interventions. My ultimate career aspiration is to develop and implement evidence-based mental health services for children in underserved communities both in the US and abroad. Before moving to Chicago in the middle of the pandemic, I received my BA in politics and BA in psychology at Washington and Lee University in 2018. Then, I moved to Ohio and worked as a research assistant at Nationwide Children’s Hospital for two years. Outside of work, you can find me reading, traveling, doing yoga, or taking my 3-year-old bunny on walks.

I grew up in China, and I am the first female in my family to pursue higher education abroad. As an international student, I am passionate about promoting cultural diversity, gender equality, and racial/ethnicity equality. Last summer, I tutored 26 first-generation students who were interested in pursuing a STEM career path in Columbus, helping them complete their first poster presentation in psychology. Guiding these students from ethnic minority backgrounds to conduct more culturally sensitive research was an extremely rewarding experience to me, and I hope to continue encouraging individuals with different cultural backgrounds to contribute their cultural perspectives to scientific research. I was drawn to the Chicago Women in STEM initiative because I’m looking forward to engaging with like-minded science lovers and also excited to discover new areas that may expand my future goals. As a part of the network, I hope to learn from the incredible women in this group and contribute to advancing science education and communication.

Natasha Sansone, PhD

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I completed a Ph.D. in Microbiology and Immunology at University of Illinois – Chicago, in the Uprichard lab. For my thesis work, I studied hepatitis C virus and infection/treatment response kinetics with the use of mathematical models and in vitro experiments. Halfway into my Ph.D. I decided to explore careers outside of academia and did an internship as a commercialization consultant. Based on my experience during the internship, I took an interest in intellectual property law.

My parents and most of my grandparents did not attend college, but one grandparent immigrated to the United States from China and ultimately completed a Ph.D. in physics. He often brought me to visit his work at Fermilab, which sparked my interest in scientific research.

Thank you for reading this!

Michelle Teplensky, PhD

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My name is Michelle Teplensky and I am a postdoctoral fellow in the department of Chemistry at Northwestern University in the lab of Prof. Chad Mirkin. My research focuses on the development of a nanomaterial called spherical nucleic acids (SNAs) as a prostate cancer immunotherapy. I work to retrain the body’s natural immune system to fight cancer cells through modular design and tuning of these nanoscale architectures. In this work, we uncover design rules about kinetic control and specified placement of vaccine components (stimulant and target molecules) to make the most potent vaccine that can be applied to various disease areas.

I am passionate about nanomedicine and the ability to manipulate materials for therapeutic needs. This passion was shaped by formative experiences through my undergrad at MIT and during my PhD at the University of Cambridge in the UK. These environments showed me the power of diversity of thought to generate meaningful science, and shaped my desire to mentor and guide the next generation of scientists and engineers. At my current postdoc at Northwestern, I am incredibly lucky to help mentor younger students as they grow in their passion for science.

Recently, I was honored with the designation as a “Crain 2020 Notable Woman in STEM.” I feel humbled to have been selected amongst these incredible other women, but I think most importantly this provides an avenue for teaching and informing the non-scientific community about new and upcoming therapeutic developments; this will broaden the impact of science. I am excited to be in a network like Chicago Women in STEM because of the ability to contribute, learn, and engage with incredible women whose unique scientific backgrounds will push my own thinking into new areas.

Jackie Rojas

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Hello! I’m a first-generation student and DACA recipient. My parents brought me to the US when I was two years old with the aspiration for a better life and opportunity for their children to obtain a good education. Growing up I knew I liked science and math, but I had not explored engineering as an option until my second year in college. I didn’t know much about engineering and had never met an engineer up until that point, but I was attracted to the idea of using science and math to solve complex problems and do things like building biosensors and medical devices. Naturally, after further exploration, I took on the journey of completing a B.S. in Bioengineering at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC).

Throughout that journey, I became involved in undergraduate research in Dr. Abiade’s Lab at UIC in the Mechanical and Industrial Engineering Department (Laboratory for Oxide Research and Education). I was tasked with testing the antibacterial properties of a novel superhydrophobic coating. Through this opportunity I was able to attend a research conference and became coauthor of a publication. It was by far one of the most challenging experiences, but regardless of the difficulty I became passionate about research.

Now, I am continuing my passion for research by pursuing a PhD in Mechanical Engineering at UIC. My work still involves microorganisms, but now I am looking into the use of microorganisms for the conversion of CO2 into biofuels. I am excited to continue working on my research project and fulfill my new role as 2020-2021 GradSWE president at UIC. Through Chicago Women in STEM I have learned the importance of community and look forward to learning more how others have maintained resilience in achieving their professional goals in STEM.

Doris Oke MS, PhD

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Doris Oke earned her Master’s and PhD Degrees in Chemical Engineering from University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa. She recently joined the Northwestern Argonne Institute of Science and Engineering as a Post-Doctoral Research Fellow with her research focusing on analyzing systems-level energy and environmental benefits of co optimization of liquid fuels and engines in the light-duty and heavy-duty sectors. She investigates how this approach to reducing energy consumption and emissions in transportation is complementary to electrification of light- and heavy-duty vehicles. Her other research interest is in the area of development of a continuous time framework for the synthesis of batch plants, and a process integration technique for integrated water and membrane network systems. She applies continuous time framework for scheduling of batch processes and simultaneous water and energy optimization in process industries using a mathematical modelling approach.

Kara Ferracuti

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Hi, my name is Kara Ferracuti. I am a Regulatory Coordinator at Northwestern’s Feinberg School of Medicine in the Lurie Cancer Center Clinical Trials Office. I ensure compliance with the rules and regulations governing the conduct of oncology clinical research studies – liaising with regulatory and oversight groups and coordinating processes for submission, documentation, and reporting.

My work lies at the intersection of disciplines. I have an undergraduate background in science (psychology and neuroscience) and always knew I wanted to work in healthcare – but did not end up doing it in the way I expected. Through my experience as the Vice President of Financial Affairs for a student organization in college, I discovered that I had exceptional skills in compliance/ethics, business management and process improvement, with a remarkable attention to detail and analytical mindset. It wasn’t until after graduation that I realized that my professional interests lie in regulatory compliance, quality, and operations.

Utilizing my unique combination of backgrounds, I am passionate about bringing perspectives from business and law to the healthcare and clinical trials industry. In the fall I will be starting as a part-time student in Northwestern Pritzker’s Master of Science in Law program, where I hope to develop legal writing and negotiation skills, learn about contracts (such as those between clinical research sites and study sponsors), and explore multidisciplinary issues related to technology (involving patient data and privacy/security, emerging technologies and innovation, internal controls, etc.), among other goals. I have also taken an interest in auditing, as I often find myself naturally playing the role of almost an internal auditor in my department.

My favorite Chicago Women in STEM event so far (outside of the obvious “Careers at the Intersection of STEM and Law”) was our holiday party. It was nice getting to know new people, sharing what we do in our professions, and having the opportunity to practice explaining exactly what it is that I love so much about my field. Overall, I like being part of the Chicago Women in STEM community because it presents an easy opportunity to build continuing relationships with people who come to the events. You meet people who you’ll see again at future Women in STEM events – if not before then at a totally unrelated academic lecture (as once was the case with someone I met!) – and help each other learn new things, discover new events, meet new people! I look forward to connecting with more of you and can’t wait to be able to see you in person again when it is safe! 

Caren Nassif

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Hello! My name is Caren Nassif. I recently joined Northwestern University as a Masters student in Clinical Psychology (with a concentration in Neuropsychology and Behavioral Neuroscience) in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the Feinberg School of Medicine, where I study the cognitive, clinical and anatomical features of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementia disorders. I received my BA in Clinical Psychology from Rutgers University. Post-graduation, I worked in a cognitive neuroscience lab at Columbia University. My proudest professional achievement was getting published in Neurology on a paper addressing the importance of close social networks to the long-term dysfunction of patients with Multiple Sclerosis. My research goal is to develop a better understanding of neurodegenerative disorders and to find more innovative, clinically-applicable treatments for patients suffering from these disorders. After my masters, I aspire to get my Ph.D. in Clinical Neuropsychology, where I hope to continue applying the same patient-centered methods to my research.

When I was 12 years old, I immigrated to the U.S. from Egypt. I found comfort in finding a strong community of Coptic (Egyptian) Orthodox Christians, like myself. I have been part of the community for years and wanted to provide the same comfort and support to other immigrants and minorities in my community. At which, I began helping newly-immigrated Egyptian women in my community find jobs and healthcare. I saw the importance of empowering and guiding women to success in their fields. Through my active involvement in STEM, I hope to connect with other like-minded women and to spread awareness of the significant role women play in science and in our society.

Saki Amagai

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Hi everyone! I currently work as a Research Study Coordinator for Dr. Richard Gershon’s team in the Medical Social Science Department of Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. I’m on the Mobile Toolbox project with a fun group of scientists, trying to develop a mobile app to assess cognitive function. I graduated from Carleton College in 2018 as a Chemistry major (aka completely unrelated to what I’m doing now)!

Working on the Mobile Toolbox project made me interested in learning how to understand the data we get from the assessments. I am now taking classes with Northwestern’s Data Science boot camp program, and I’m hoping to apply to health and bioinformatics graduate programs this coming fall.

I also like to think about science outside of work/school (especially when I’m cooking)! I’ve started a food blog during this pandemic that delves into some food science as well as other historical/cultural aspects of the dish. Please check out https://www.curious-chefs.com if you have the time. Always recruiting more recipes to share!

Anugraha Rajagopalan, PhD

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I am Anugraha Rajagopalan, a postdoctoral scientist at Rush University specializing in Cancer Immunology. At work, I spend my time understanding the immune responses to cancer and developing novel therapeutics and diagnostics to combat the disease. My current research on a novel therapeutic is currently in preliminary stages of clinical trials. I was passionate about biology from a very young age. It was this passion coupled with hard work and destiny that translated to pursuing a Ph.D. in Immunology from Miller School of Medicine, Miami. There, I researched RNA therapeutics to elicit an immune response against cancer. My career goal is to develop novel therapeutics to evoke long-term immune responses against cancer.

The Chicago Women in STEM symposium is a wonderful platform for us women to interact, educate, and learn. 2020 was the first year that I attended the symposium and I am very confident I will be returning year after year. In particular, this year, I loved learning about the concept of “sponsor”. I have been fortunate to have amazing sponsors in the form of mentors throughout my Ph.D. and postdoctoral training. By associating with the Chicago Women in STEM, I hope to be a sponsor to my fellow women and bring awareness in our society to the significant role women play in science.