Albion Women “STEM” from Greatness: The Alumni

"Women in Science: 50 Fearless Pioneers Who Changed the World," by Rachel Ignotofsky, is a book published in 2016 that highlights 50 notable women in the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) field. Although the gap in the disparities between sexes is closing, only 25% of women hold STEM jobs. This article mini-series will be highlighting Albion women who are working or aspiring to work in the STEM field (Photo by Irene Corona Avila).

For centuries, women have fought for equality between the sexes. Inequality between women and men lurks in the shadows in seemingly small to egregiously large ways. From blue and pink baby shower themes to disparities in jobs, inequality exists in all aspects of society. Although society in the United States has made efforts to flatten the curve of inequality between the sexes, women today are still advocating for their rights in numerous ways.

Little girls are told to play with dolls and wear pink dresses. Whenever they do something that doesn’t fit this model, they’re told, “That’s for boys.” We tend to look up to people who look like us, and for many little girls, that means models, teachers, nurses and singers. Although those are amazing professions, we, as women, are shown that we cannot be the president of the United States, the surgeon that separates conjoined twins, a construction worker or a scientist. 

The U.S. Department of Commerce released a 2017 report examining the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) workforce breakdown. 48% of women in the United States have jobs supporting the efforts to close the gap between the sexes, but women hold only 24% of jobs in the STEM field.

In light of the disparities and in celebration of last month being Women’s History Month, this mini-series aims to highlight and celebrate Albion professors and aspiring students in the STEM field. 

Alumni in STEM

Alex Yaw (‘14) is a neuroendocrinologist and research associate at Michigan State University’s Hoffman lab. She graduated with a bachelor’s in psychology and a PhD in biomedical sciences in neuroscience from Kent State University. 

Alex Yaw (‘14) is now a neuroendocrinologist and works as a research associate at Michigan State University’s Hoffman lab (Photo courtesy of Alex Yaw).

In her beginning years at Albion, she thought she wanted to become a physician. But after taking a practicum at a mental hospital through the  psychological sciences department, she quickly learned that she preferred the roles of a clinical psychologist over psychiatry. She then conducted research with professor of psychology Dr. Tammy Jechura where she found her passion in research in biological rhythms. 

“The nice thing about scientific research is that it’s so much more than just benchwork, and I love that I also get to read, analyze data, and write. My work is something different every day,” said Yaw.

Yaw faced many challenges, most of which came throughout her graduate years that are common for graduate students to experience. But she witnessed a few systematic difficulties such as low pay and poor health care coverage. Luckily, Yaw had a teaching assistantship and a paid program, which isn’t always the case in some of the humanities graduate programs. 

Yaw has not experienced outright discrimination, but she has with microaggressions based on her gender and age. One experience involved a conversation with a middle-aged principal investigator while at an international conference that had a big impact on her. 

Throughout their conversation, he kept calling her a “good girl” or “clever girl” all while she was wearing a badge. 

“Even though I think he meant the comments as compliments, it felt so belittling. I remember distinctly thinking during the conversation that he would have never used that type of wording when speaking to a male colleague or even a male student,” said Yaw. “I didn’t seem to be worth the potential repercussions for pointing it out to him. I think it just goes to show that language is really important.

Despite these challenges, Yaw learned to appreciate the “little moments” such as taking quick “coffee breaks” with her best friend, engaging in conversations about theory, laughing in the lab or the feeling of a small “breakthrough” moment.

Yaw played softball at Albion and became an assistant coach for a local high school’s softball team throughout her graduate school career. She loves to take on trail running and travelling.

About Irene Corona Avila 30 Articles
Irene is a third-year student and a prideful Georgia Peach from Atlanta. She is a biochemistry major in attempt to save the world. Aside from running and writing, you can find Irene dancing freely or talking up a pun. She's currently reading a book on gravity, but she can't seem to put it down.

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