Brandy Nelson began her college career thinking that she wanted to become a doctor as many students pursing biology majors do. Once she decided against medical school, Brandy came to the University of Kentucky in pursuit of a master’s degree in biology that she completed at Eastern Kentucky University. Upon the completion of her master’s program she began working in many research labs until she finally stumbled on the field of Biological safety. Brandy has been in the field of Biosafety for approximately thirteen years and currently serves as the University of Kentucky’s Institutional Biosafety Officer. In this role she explores the agents that could be potentially harmful to humans, plants, or the environment. While she is happy in her position she definitely knows the feeling that some students experience when trying to find their “perfect fit.” Brandy encourages students to explore all of their passions and to find career that does not require them to put a limit on anyone of them. As a woman in the field of STEM, Brandy acknowledged that there may be some adversity to be faced when trying to pursue your desired career. She says that the best way to overcome that is to create a core group of strong women around you. Brandy knows that women have a lot to offer in the field of STEM, especially to bring the life sciences out of the research lab and into everyday usage. She states, “You have to just know that you can do whatever you want to do and move forward with it.”
Hannah Latta is a second year medical student at the University of Kentucky who has had quite an interesting journey to medical school—including completing a summer of research in Germany. She chose her career path because she enjoys a challenge every day and believes that math and science are the way to achieve these challenges. She was drawn to genetics for this specific purpose as there is always a problem to solve, and even more so, she is becoming a doctor because “figuring out what’s wrong with patients is the ultimate challenge to overcome as improving patient care is the most satisfying achievement.” Being in both a STEM field for undergrad and now being in medical school, she has noticed that the gender gap is still there—“51% of my class is female, which is awesome, but you can still see it in the older generation that this was a male dominated field.” She has been told before that it wasn’t her place as a woman to go into a STEM field and become a doctor, but this only served as a motivation for her to follow through with her dreams and become even more passionate about her future. Throughout her years of undergrad and the beginning of medical school, she has come up with three very essential pieces of advice. Number one is “don’t give up, the more work you put in on the front end [undergrad] then the more reward you get at the back end [in your future career].” Secondly, she said that everyone should have a mentor. Specifically, you should have a mentor who is one or two years older who has gone through everything you will have to go through that can give relevant advice—“it’s difficult to do this, but it’s more difficult if you have to do it alone.” Lastly, and possibly her biggest piece of advice, was to not forget who you are as a person: “if there are things you enjoy, integrate them in your life somehow and they will work to enrich each other.”
Krista Citron, who is originally from Kentucky, graduated from Vanderbilt University with a bachelor’s degree in Civil Engineering before coming back to UK to obtain her master’s degree in Civil Engineering with a transportation focus in 2007. She then started to work for CDPEngineers as a project engineer for over 8 years before taking up the position as a project manager engineer for Kentucky America Water last spring. Krista Citron described her experience going into an engineering field as “a coincident”. Growing up, she had always known that she wanted a job that would help her community but she didn’t know exactly what that was, until the summer before her senior year of high school, she got into the Kentucky Governor Scholar Program where she found herself feeling interested in being a female engineer after 5 weeks of “…learning about engineering and what to expect from this field”. Krista Citron has been actively involved in undergraduate research and mentorships through which she has helped students get their questions answered about college life and has motivated more female undergrads to pursue STEM majors within her college. She was aware of the gender gap in STEM during her high school that she chose to attend Vanderbilt University as it had the highest percentage of women in engineering in the country during the time that she was applying for college. She has been passionate about encouraging more female students to be involved in STEM ever since and she believes that the involvement of women in engineering strongly contributes to its success, “STEM is a profession that definitely needs a lot more women in it. Women bring a certain skillset to the table that is lacking if it’s all men”. Krista Citron is currently working as a project manager engineer for Kentucky American Water where she continues to strike for diversity and inclusion in the workplace as well as helping more and more female students to enroll in STEM with the support from her company, American Water. We wish her the best!
Dr. Whitney Blackburn-Lynch is an engineering professor at the University of Kentucky. After earning her undergraduate degree in mathematics, she earned a master’s in civil and environmental engineering. She spent twelve years working in industry and then pursued a PhD in biosystems and agricultural engineering. Dr. Blackburn-Lynch teaches and works on content development in the first-year engineering program. She strives to find out how to best serve freshmen engineering students and to help them transition from high school to college.
With her work in the first-year program, Dr. Blackburn-Lynch is able to think about what can be done to keep women in the STEM field. She explained that in high school, girls are usually fifty percent of the classroom, even in math and science classes. It is not an overwhelming difference. But then in first year engineering classes like math and physics, girls realize that they are a minority. A lot of females walk in unprepared to deal with attitudes directed towards them because they are different. Because of this, some females face imposter syndrome. To fix this, Dr. Blackburn-Lynch says we need to help women and other minorities recognize their power and to help them be confident. Ensuring women realize their full potential early is critical.
Dr. Blackburn-lynch shared her perspective on the importance of having females in STEM. She explained that females make up half of the population, so it is important that they are represented in the sciences equally. She recently taught a lecture in the first-year program on unconscious bias, including design bias. Engineers often design based on personal perspectives and experiences. For example, until 2011, there weren’t any crash dummies that were shaped like women. This resulted in a significant increase in the potential for serious injury to women in cars. Thus, it is important for women to be represented in STEM fields and in engineering because they are going to come at design from a different perspective. Females are going to have different ideas, which need to be heard so engineers can do better job of developing products for the entire population, not just the male half.
Dr. Czarena Crofcheck, affectionately known as Dr. C by her students, grew up moving from place to place – she attend 12 schools in 12 different years throughout Michigan, Ohio, and California. She received her Bachelor of Science in Chemical Engineering from Michigan State University and earned both her Master of Science in Chemical Engineering and Ph.D. in Biosystems & Agricultural Engineering from the University of Kentucky. Her love of STEM began in the fifth grade when she distinctly remembers seeing a commercial for “New and Improved Crust!” and wanting to be the person making it. However, it took until college for her to realize that it was the chemical engineering part of STEM that she really wanted to pursue.
Dr. C is the Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and a professor in the Lewis Honors College and Biosystems & Agricultural Engineering Department at UK. Dr. C has a love of beer - currently, she teachesAEN341: Brewing Science and Technology. She also hopes to assist students complete research opportunities related to brewing and beer. She is also involved in the Kentucky Girls STEM Collaborative – a group that works towards gender balance in STEM. “When we first started, we did open a little bit of the dialogue up with “Why should we have gender equity?” And we don’t use “equality” we just say “equity”. We want everyone to have the opportunity to pursue what they want to pursue. It doesn’t mean that we’re aiming for 50/50 -because that’s not really fair either. Kentucky Girls STEM Collaborative visits elementary schools, middle schools, and attends Engineering Day every year at UK in an effort to bring STEM to the kids with activities such as tie-dying with Sharpies and creating edible geodes.
As a mother to two kids, balancing life in STEM with being a mom can be difficult - Dr. Crofcheck says she manages with a strong support system and advises “don’t beat yourself up if you can’t get everything done and enjoy every single minute as much as you can” and also stated that while it may appear that people are juggling everything, sometimes the balls do fall.
To women pursuing careers in STEM, Dr. Crofcheck says “be really true to your heart ... and really figure out whether it’s what you really want to do. Because there are ways to do STEM differently and all over the place so if you go into it, there’s plenty of room to find something that makes you happy.”
Dr. Khamfroush obtained her bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering in Urmia University before receiving her Master’s degree in Telecommunications Engineering from Yazd University and her PhD degree from the University of Porto in Portugal. She is currently working as an assistant professor in the department of Computer Science while actively involve in research at the University of Kentucky. Her research focuses on mathematical modeling, analysis and development of efficient solutions to optimize delay, throughput, resiliency and energy efficiency of large-scale complex distributed networks, such as next generation of wireless networks and wireless communication. Growing up, Dr. Khamfroushenjoyed mathematics and physics; therefore, she soon realized that STEM was the field that she wanted to pursue throughout her career. Before coming to UK, Dr.Khamfroushworked as a Post-Doctoral scholar in Penn State University, where she began to take notice of the gap between male and female students among her peers, which motivated her to get more female undergraduates enrolling in STEM, specifically in Computer Science, by giving female students opportunities to be involved in her research and be better exposed to STEM professions. Dr. Khamfroushstrongly encourages women to enroll in STEM majors as when it comes to pursuing a predominantly male field like STEM, she advises young women to “…stay motivated, don’t lose motivations because of negative feedbacks from the society, try to maintain your passions and just keep going. I’m sure that hard work pays off, always!”
Dr. Mei Chen, a civil engineering professor, has been at the University of Kentucky for sixteen years. Before her time here, she earned both her BS in materials science and MS in traffic engineering in China. She then received her PhD in transportation at the New Jersey Institute of Technology. At UK, Dr. Chen conducts research on the planning, mobility, and operations of transportation systems. She spends the other half of her time teaching transportation courses. Dr. Chen is happy to see more and more females in her classes, and she believes women in STEM should not let being a minority bring them down because there is no limit on what females can achieve. After completing her undergrad, Dr. Chen was so intimidated by the math portion of the standardized test for master’s programs, that she almost did not even take it. Many of the most confident and seemingly smartest students in the grades above her had failed miserably. However, after putting her mind towards doing well, she passed. Dr. Chen explained that we don’t know our potential. She said, “if we keep telling ourselves, I’m going to do the best I can, then we can achieve amazing things!”
Kara Lee began her educational career here at the University of Kentucky searching for a path that would combine her passion for science and helping people. After being inspired by a summer camp experience in which she was a lifeguard for those who were suffering from various disabilities, Kara decided that physical therapy would be the best fit for her. She attended Physical Therapy school at the University of Kentucky as well. In her first position after graduation, she worked with children and their parents to better the child’s physical abilities. After that she worked in an inpatient facility with patients who had suffered spinal cord injuries. She is currently working in the education realm. Lee is also involved in research as a clinician, bringing the bedside and benchtop work together for the best results. She is also a mentor to students, helping them find research opportunities that best fit their needs. Lee believes that the upper levels of the physical therapy field specifically do not mirror the demographics of America. The lower echelon of physical therapists is comprised of mainly women, but as you take a look at management and those in the higher positions, Kara says that a difference can be seen. She has been supported in many of the new tasks that she was wanted to venture into although sometimes “it may have felt that [she] sometimes hit a wall due to [her] field of choice.” Despite this, she never allowed the challenges of being a woman dampen her inspirations.
Dr.Paullin graduated with her Bachelor's degree from Monmouth College. She then got her Master's from Illinois State University, and her PhD. from St Louis University. Dr. Paullinoriginally planned to be a high school teacher, so she intended to stop school after her Bachelor's degree. However, she continued unto to her masters because of her desire to grow. While getting her Master's she was encouraged by her thesis advisor to get her Doctorate. This was important for her because it made her think about being a mathematician and not just a math teacher. She is currently here at UK because her present job is in line with her original dream, with it being a teaching focused job. She's living her dream, except that over the years her students have gotten a little older every time. Her passion for math began as result of a wonderful woman, her junior high math teacher, Mrs. Stevens. "Not just being a woman, but also being a mom I feel like I've had to fight harder" A very pivotal experience for Dr. Paullinhappened when she was completing her bachelor's degree. She was forced to re-submit all her paperwork for a teacher's certification, as a result of this she was under the impression that she had just failed at life. However, she was able to turn this around and turn it into a learning experience that has now shaped who she is as a person today. Her outlook on this experience now is "struggles are a good point to re-evaluate and come back stronger". She believes that "we all need mentors for different aspects of our lives". She is currently a mentor to two mentees from IAmAWomanInSTEM, and because she is in charge of the TA professional development in the math department she acts as a mentor to them as well. Her advice is to "have fun with STEM because if you love it hopefully other people would get to see what to love about it."
Diane Begemann graduated with her Bachelor's degree from Centre College, where her love for biology and biochemistry were first recognized. After her undergrad she was torn between Grad school and Med school, and decided to pursue Graduate education because she fell in love with it. Even though her interest for medicine faded she never lost interest in the medical relevance of biology itself. Her passion for biology is still burning because of the encouragements she received from her professors at Centre, and still feels her at UK from her research advisor. As a result of the amount of support she has gotten from those around her she is currently trying her best to be encouraging to the undergraduate student that works in her lab right now. "You have to love what you do, you really do because with the hours you start to question if it is worth it." In order to keep herself sane Diane tries to go to the barn about 5-6 days a week because "it resets me and it helps that I'm going to do something fun that isn't related to grad school or the lab, and it helps me do a better job because I'm not burned out mentally." Her advice is to "not put a limit on yourself and if you're surrounded by people telling you you can't do it then it's time to change the people you take advises from; change the person not the dream". Diane is currently a graduate student at the University of Kentucky College of Medicine in the Toxicology and Cancer Biology Department.