Inspiring Future Scientists
The Emma Willard School Science Department recently hosted a screening of the award-winning film Picture a Scientist, followed by a panel discussion with local female scientists. The film features a variety of renowned female scientists, including a molecular biologist, analytical chemist, geomorphologist, and cardiologist, as they navigate their workplaces.
Picture a Scientist chronicles the stories of researchers who are writing a new chapter for women scientists. Biologist Nancy Hopkins, chemist Raychelle Burks, and geologist Jane Willenbring lead viewers on a journey deep into their own experiences in the sciences, ranging from brutal harassment to years of subtle slights. Along the way, from cramped laboratories to spectacular field stations, social scientists, neuroscientists, and psychologists provide perspective on how to make science itself more diverse, equitable, and open to all. Emma Willard students and employees were given the opportunity to watch the film through a private screening link (view the trailer to the film here).
As a follow-up to the film screening, Science Instructor Jon Calos invited Hannah Bower ’10 to gather a panel of female scientists who work alongside her at GE Global Research to share their experiences and career paths. Tiffany Westendorf (Chemical Engineering), Masako Yamada, PhD (Physics), Marissa Brennan (Materials Science and Engineering), Andrea Vozar (Mechanical, Civil, Environmental Engineering), Katelyn Angeliu (Mechanical Engineering), Arnyah Brown-Countess (Bioengineering), and Hannah Bower ’10 (Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering) joined Emma Willard School students and employees in an enlightening virtual discussion.
Science Department Chair Erin Hatton guided the question and answer time, beginning by asking each panelist to talk about their educational and professional journeys.
The panelists shared how role models helped shape their approach to their work. Hannah recalled an insightful moment early in her career when she was contemplating a change in her path. “One of my internship mentors at NASA [...] suggested that I make a list of what I really wanted to do,” Hannah shares. What she truly wanted was to pursue engineering, even though her undergraduate degree was in chemistry. Although this was an uncommon practice and some said ‘no,’ Hannah’s mentor told her that all she needed was one person to say ‘yes.’ “This mentor realized that I had other interests and helped cultivate that through her network. I’m forever grateful; I think she set me on a trajectory.”
In reflecting on the experiences of the scientists in the film, the panelists described the balance that women try to strike between being too relaxed and being too firm or forward. One student was curious about how the panelists dealt with societal expectations to follow traditional gender norms like getting married and having children, while still pursuing their careers. “I never saw it as ‘either I go have a career OR I have a family’,” Tiffany shares. “In the last year, I’ve worked from home and been a program manager, person leader, home school advisor, preschool leader. [...] It’s part of having different aspects and facets of your life that bring color and variety and balance and meaning to your life. Work is intellectually stimulating and can give you a sense of accomplishment, but it’s not the only thing in your life.”
Hannah gave specific advice to Emma students to take classes that sound intriguing to them, rather than classes they think colleges want to see. Hannah didn’t take every AP class possible, but rather focused on classes that she thought were interesting, like neuroscience or forensic science. “Everything is interconnected,” she shares. “So take any class that you’re interested in.”
From discussing Fermilab's Muon discovery, to getting tips on gaining exposure to a variety of fields, to finding internships and networking, the group widely agreed that the key to success and happiness in your field is to do what you love. “Do the things that excite you, that you have fun doing,” Andrea advocates. “Volunteer with the organizations you’re passionate about. When you have a connection to what you’re doing, you’re going to do it better and have fun every day.”
The panelists offered nuggets of wisdom like “there’s no wasted learning,” “surround yourself with people who aren’t like you,” and “we don’t know tomorrow’s problems yet, so think outside the box.” The time together offered inspiration for practitioners in any field, and left students encouraged and reflecting on how they might pursue their own passions. “I found the panel quite relieving,” Ava S. ’22 shares. “It seems that the type of pervasive sexism in the film was not as omnipresent in the lives of the scientists [on the panel].”
The Science Department had two goals for the event: First, it was important to share the film with the Emma community to shed light on the history of women in science. Second, they wished to provide a current view of the same topics discussed in the film, made possible by Hannah’s eagerness to give back to Emma in this creative way. “Thanks to everyone involved, the events were even better than we expected,” Jon shares. “We are looking forward to continuing collaborating with Hannah in the future!”