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Breaking Barriers: Women in STEM Education, Part II
by: Priyanka Raha ~4/11/2024

Exploring the Journey of Women in STEM and the Push for Greater Inclusion


In our previous blog article, we started a conversation on adopting an inclusive approach to science and technology fields to build a better future, by highlighting the extraordinary achievements of women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM). In "Breaking Barriers: Women in STEM Education, Part II," we continue our exploration into the remarkable journeys of women who have carved their paths in the fields of science and technology.

This compilation of stories shines a light on the resilience, creativity, and unparalleled determination of women who have not only navigated but also challenged and reshaped the traditionally male-dominated landscapes of STEM fields. From groundbreaking researchers and innovators to inspiring educators and leaders, these narratives serve as a testament to the critical role women play in driving scientific and technological progress. As we learn about the triumphs and trials of these trailblazing women, we also underscore the ongoing efforts and necessity for greater inclusion, aiming to inspire future generations to continue breaking barriers and expanding the horizons of what is possible in STEM.

Emily Roebling
Emily Warren Roebling (1843–1903) is best known for her contribution to the completion of the Brooklyn Bridge after her husband, Washington Roebling, the chief engineer, became incapacitated due to decompression sickness, often referred to as "the bends." Despite having no formal training in engineering, Emily took on the responsibility of overseeing the project's completion.

She diligently learned about cable construction, stress analysis, and other engineering principles necessary for the construction of the bridge. Emily Warren Roebling's dedication and contribution to the Brooklyn Bridge project not only helped ensure its successful completion but also challenged the gender norms of her time, showcasing the capabilities of women in engineering and leadership roles. Her work on the Brooklyn Bridge stands as a testament to her intelligence, perseverance, and engineering acumen.

Tessy Thomas
Tessy Thomas is an accomplished Indian scientist and engineer, renowned for her significant contributions to the country's defense sector, particularly in the field of missile technology. Born in April 1963 in Alappuzha, Kerala, India, she is often celebrated as the "Missile Woman" of India due to her pivotal role in the development of the Agni series of missiles. Tessy Thomas's achievements have not only contributed to India's defense preparedness but also served as an inspiration for women in STEM fields.

Thomas has the distinction of being the first woman to head a missile project in India. She was appointed as the Project Director for Agni-IV missile in the Defence Research and Development Organization (DRDO), India's premier institution for the development of technology for the military. Her expertise and leadership were instrumental in the successful development and testing of the Agni-IV and Agni-V missiles, which are key components of India's strategic defense capabilities, capable of carrying nuclear warheads over long distances. Thomas has received numerous awards and recognitions for her contributions, including the Lal Bahadur Shastri National Award for her outstanding contribution to the field of Aerospace and Missile Technology.

Jane Cooke Wright
Jane Cooke Wright, born on November 20, 1919, was a pioneering African American cancer researcher and physician who made significant contributions to chemotherapy research. She was part of a groundbreaking team that was among the first to test chemotherapy as a treatment for cancer in the late 1940s and 1950s. Wright's work helped transform chemotherapy from a last-ditch effort to a viable treatment option for cancer patients. In 1964, she became the highest-ranking African American woman in a U.S. medical institution when she was appointed associate dean and head of the Cancer Chemotherapy Department at New York Medical College.

Jane Wright graduated with honors from New York Medical College in 1945 and quickly joined her father at the Harlem Hospital Cancer Research Foundation, where they began their collaborative work on chemotherapy. Jane Wright's innovative research included developing new techniques for administering chemotherapy and exploring the use of methotrexate, a drug still used today to treat certain types of cancer. Throughout her career, Wright was a tireless advocate for patient rights and access to quality care, breaking down barriers for minorities in medicine along the way. Her legacy continues to inspire and impact the field of oncology and beyond.

Barbara Mcclintock
Barbara McClintock was a groundbreaking American geneticist whose work revolutionized our understanding of genetics and cell biology. Born on June 16, 1902, in Hartford, Connecticut, McClintock made pioneering discoveries in the field of cytogenetics, particularly the behavior of chromosomes during the reproductive process of maize (corn) cells. In 1983, she was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for her discovery of mobile genetic elements, making her the first woman to receive an unshared Nobel Prize in that category. McClintock's perseverance and dedication to her research have made her a role model for scientists everywhere, especially women in science.

She is best known for her discovery of transposable elements, or "jumping genes," in the 1940s and 1950s. McClintock found that genes could move between different locations on the chromosome, a concept that was initially met with skepticism by the scientific community. Her research demonstrated that these mobile genetic elements can lead to mutations by "jumping" to different positions within the genome, thereby affecting the genetic traits of organisms. This discovery laid the foundation for the field of molecular genetics and has had profound implications for our understanding of genetic variation, evolution, and the regulation of gene expression. Her life and work have left an indelible mark on the field of genetics, and she remains one of the most distinguished scientists of the 20th century.

Katia Krafft
Katia Krafft (née Catherine Joséphine Conrad on April 17, 1942) was a French volcanologist who, alongside her husband Maurice Krafft, became renowned for her pioneering work in the study and documentation of volcanoes. The Kraffts were known for their daring approaches to studying volcanic eruptions up close, capturing some of the most iconic and invaluable footage and photographs of lava flows, pyroclastic flows, and volcanic explosions. Their work significantly contributed to the understanding of volcanic activity and the risks associated with living in close proximity to active volcanoes.

Katia Krafft's passion for geology led her to study at the University of Strasbourg. She, along with her husband, devoted their lives to the study of volcanoes, traveling to active sites all over the world. Their extensive field research helped improve safety measures for populations living near volcanoes by advancing the understanding of volcanic hazards. Tragically, both Katia and Maurice Krafft died on June 3, 1991, while observing the eruption of Mount Unzen in Japan. Despite their untimely deaths, the Kraffts' legacy lives on through their extensive collection of film, photographs, and scientific observations, which continue to educate and inspire future generations of volcanologists and the general public alike.

Elizabeth Blackburn
Elizabeth Blackburn is a distinguished Australian-American molecular biologist who made groundbreaking discoveries in the field of telomere biology. Born on November 26, 1948, in Hobart, Tasmania, Australia, she is best known for her co-discovery of the enzyme telomerase in 1984, along with Carol W. Greider and Jack Szostak. This enzyme plays a crucial role in the maintenance and repair of telomeres, the protective caps at the ends of chromosomes that are critical for cellular aging and stability. For her contributions to science, Elizabeth Blackburn was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2009, shared with Carol W. Greider and Jack Szostak, for their discovery of how chromosomes are protected by telomeres and the enzyme telomerase.
Blackburn's research has had profound implications for our understanding of the cellular aging process, cancer, and age-related diseases. Her work on telomeres and telomerase has opened new avenues in biomedical research, leading to better understanding of how cells age and how cancer cells manage to proliferate indefinitely. Blackburn has also been involved in various scientific leadership roles and public discussions on science policy and ethics. Her work not only continues to influence the field of molecular biology but also underscores the importance of basic scientific research in addressing complex biological questions and potential therapeutic approaches.

The narratives and achievements of women in the fields of science and technology highlight the incredible strides made towards scientific advancement as well as illuminate the path for future generations. These trailblazers, through their resilience and brilliance, have not just filled gaps in their respective domains but have also reshaped the very landscape of STEM, challenging stereotypes and inspiring a more diverse generation of scientists and technologists. As we celebrate their accomplishments, let us also commit to furthering their legacy by continuing to advocate for and implement policies that ensure equal opportunities for all, regardless of gender. The journey towards a more inclusive STEM field is ongoing, and it is through collective effort and recognition of these remarkable contributions that we can build a truly equitable and innovative future.
Finding new ways to inspire kids to stay curious, learn, and communicate effectively is one of my life’s work which is why I include many fun activities in our writing classes to inspire the next generation of thinkers and explorers. Want to learn more about our story writing classes? Check us out here.

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