Spotlight: WISE Conference

WISE Conference showcases opportunities, awards research

By Billi London-Gray

The influence and achievements of women are on the rise in the scientific community and in the world of engineering.

The proof: The second annual Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) Conference at Texas State University-San Marcos.

The conference — conceived by biology professor Dr. Dana Garcia and the Women’s Giving Circle, a philanthropic organization formed to benefit the College of Science — brought together leading researchers and industry experts to discuss and promote the work of women scientists and engineers.

This year’s event, held April 8, featured panel discussions, a research poster contest, a scholarship awards ceremony and a keynote address by Dr. Marsha Wills-Karp, the director of the Department of Immunobiology at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center and a Texas State Distinguished Alumni Award recipient.

Dr. Denise Trauth, president of Texas State, urged students attending the conference to seize opportunities to stand out. “Science and engineering need women in leadership roles – be that person. Shine wherever you are now,” she said during opening remarks.

WISE Conference 2011 attendees

Two panel discussions, featuring Texas State faculty and alumni, were presented during the conference: a science panel titled “Paths are created by walking: Women in science who are leading the way,” and an engineering panel titled “The new girl-talk: Women leading innovation through strength and sponsorship.”

“The panel discussions were very interactive, and students — male and female alike — reported that they got a lot out of the discussions,” Garcia said.

Nathan Vanderford, a senior biology major, said the panel discussions addressed concerns faced by women and by all students. He said panelists were asked:

  • How did you fit in, in such a male-dominated profession?
  • What do you wish you had been told as an undergraduate?
  • Should there be concerns about funding for research?

“All these questions were answered thoughtfully with an emphasis on how important it is, even despite economic woes and the overwhelming nature of these disciplines, to continue to follow your dream,” Vanderford said.

Reid Pereles, another biology senior, attended both panel discussions. “It was not only advice for women, but for everybody,” he said.

Priscilla Pham, a grad student in nutrition, placed second in the research poster competition for presenting her findings on the role of probiotic bacteria in obesity. Her project was the outgrowth of work she conducted for Dr. Vatsala Maitin‘s Molecular and Cellular Nutrition Laboratory.

“The conference was motivating and very encouraging,” Pham said. “It confers exceptional opportunities for women in these fields … I plan to pursue my PhD and hopefully, along that path, I will have a better idea of the direction I would like my career to continue. The great thing about science is that you never know where you will end up!”

Swapneela Unkule, a senior majoring in computer science, was awarded the Southwest Research Institute Scholarship at the conference. “This conference helped me augment my knowledge about roles played by today’s women in science and engineering,” she said. “We had opportunity to listen to some great individuals in this field about their motivation, hard work and experiences.”

Summing up the conference, Pereles added, “It was about educating and getting the attention of the academic community, which I think it did and hope it grows every year.“

For more information about the conference, including a complete list of scholarship and poster contest winners, visit the WISE website.

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