February 2023

UMB Celebrates Women in Science

March 1, 2023    |  

On Feb. 11, 2023, the United Nations International Day of Women and Girls in Science, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres proposed a simple equation: “More women and girls in science equals better science.”

Despite tremendous progress that’s been made, a significant gender gap persists throughout all levels of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) disciplines across the globe. Guterres continued, “We can all do our part to unleash our world’s enormous untapped talent — starting with filling classrooms, laboratories, and boardrooms with women scientists.”

In support of Women in Science Day, the University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB) recognized its own doctors, nurses, pharmacists, dentists, and researchers working to close the gap with a #WomeninScience social media campaign tied to the U.N. celebration. We asked women to tell us why they pursued STEM careers. Here are some of their answers, edited for length and clarity:

Nadia Sam-Agudu, MD, CTropMed, associate professor, University of Maryland School of Medicine (UMSOM); senior technical advisor, Pediatric HIV, Institute of Human Virology Nigeria: “My choosing a STEM career (clinical medicine and scientific research) is rooted in my desire to provide better health prevention and treatment for children at risk of poor health due to limited evidence, limited access, and/or poor quality health systems.”

Angela Wilks, PhD, Isaac E. Emerson Chair of Pharmaceutical Sciences, University of Maryland School of Pharmacy (UMSOP): “I was always fascinated by the diversity of nature. This led me to combine my two favorite science subjects in school, biology and chemistry to study biochemistry. Biochemistry brings everything down to the molecular level of understanding that still fascinates me.”

Meagan Fitzpatrick, PhD, assistant professor, UMSOM; Center for Vaccine Development and Global Health (CVD): “I love that I can do work which is both useful and interesting. The natural world has always been fascinating to me, especially evolution and species interactions, but also human behavior. Infectious disease epidemiology sits right at the intersection of all these forces.”

Amelia Wagenknecht, BAS, ACSM-CEP, clinical research specialist, University of Maryland School of Nursing (UMSON): “In February 2018, my dad was diagnosed with Cholangiocarcinoma, a rare cancer that forms in the bile ducts. He passed away 4 months later. His diagnosis and medical journey inspired me to pursue a STEM field in cancer research because I saw how instrumental clinical research is in creating the next generations of medicine and treatment methods for families like mine.”

Chitradevi Sekar Tamilselvi, PhD, postdoctoral research fellow, UMSOM; CVD: “I love science. I chose my career as a researcher so that I can contribute to the betterment of the human life.”

Kelley Robinson, PhD, MSN, CNM, CNE, postdoctoral fellow, UMSON: “While I have always had an interest in OBGYN, I believe the STEM career chose me. The combination of my interest in human physiology; passion for improving female health outcomes; and desire to advocate for those who are marginalized all have guided me to this place. Additionally, I enjoy working to solve problems and research is one way to do that.”

Alison Scott, PhD, assistant professor, Department of Microbial Pathogenesis, University of Maryland School of Dentistry (UMSOD): “My laboratory uses advanced spatial ‘omics techniques to map lipids and metabolites aimed at finding new therapeutic targets for infectious diseases. Whenever possible, my laboratory supports research studies initiated in our dental clinics. Research is fun, challenging, and engages many different skill sets at the same time. I chose a career path in STEM because I knew I’d never be bored!”

Isabel Rambob, DDS, assistant professor, Department of Neural and Pain Sciences' co-director of the Behavioral Dentistry course, UMSOD: “When I was 16 years old, I volunteered in a nursing home in my hometown, Salvador, Brazil. I was assigned to spend some time with this lovely lady who was toothless. I asked her what would make her happy. Her answer literally changed my life. Her desire was to have dentures. I had not considered dentistry as a career up to that point. That experience inspired me to restore people’s smiles and improve their lives. Dentistry is an amazing career!”

May Montasser, PhD, assistant professor, UMSOM: “I chose a STEM career because I love scientific research, it’s in my DNA. Scientific research is both intellectually and technically challenging and also always advancing, so I am learning every day and making novel discoveries that will improve human life. It is highly satisfying to know that I am contributing valuable knowledge to humanity that will outlive me.”

Sarah Michel, PhD, professor and chair, Pharmaceutical Sciences, associate dean, Graduate Programs, UMSOP: “When I took my first chemistry course in college, I was fascinated by how simple chemical principles can explain how the natural world works. I then had the opportunity to conduct undergraduate research in the field of bioinorganic chemistry which combines inorganic chemistry (chemistry of metals) with biology, and I was hooked. I went on to get a PhD and start my own lab at Maryland where I train and mentor graduate students in cutting-edge research that has the potential to improve human health.”

Valli Meeks, DDS, MS, RDH, clinical professor, Department of Oncology and Diagnostic Sciences, UMSOD; director, PLUS Clinic: “I started out as a high school physical education teacher and the idea of health always inspired me. When you talk about STEM, STEM chose me.”

Bing Ma, PhD, assistant professor, UMSOM: “Since graduate school, I have been embracing the fast-evolving sequencing technologies and 'big data' as well as the revolutionized transformation they brought to the medical research landscape. I decided to dedicate my STEM skills to harnessing the power of big data in advancing medical research.”

Donita Dyalram, DDS, MD, FACS, clinical associate professor and program director of Head and Neck Oncology and Microsurgery Fellowship Care, UMSOD: “As far back as I can remember I was always excited by the sciences — especially biology. I pursued biochemistry looking for answers and eventually did research in protein folding. During this time the field of dentistry was opened to me. This has led me on a journey that brought me to this point and is still continuing. I get to teach, train surgeons, and do research in a field that can save lives.”

Luana Colloca, MD, PhD, MS, MPower professor, UMSON; director, Placebo Beyond Opinions Center: “I chose a career in scientific research because it’s rewarding to do work that translates to helping people suffering from pain and other disorders. Growing up, I loved to learn and investigate and science has been the ultimate place to apply my skills to medicine and related areas as flexible non-dogmatic or reductionist thinker and scientist.”

Andrea Berry, MD, associate professor of pediatrics and medicine, UMSOM: “Science has always excited me. I enjoy thinking about complex systems and the interaction between humans and microorganisms. Every day, on many levels, I am solving problems and discovering new things. I also enjoy the challenge of communicating scientific discovery clearly and relevantly, so that others can be excited and care about important issues that affect them and others in the world.”