STEAM celebrates Long Island women who are making a difference in the Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics industries. Through print, social media and face-to-face networking Beverly Fortune, publisher of Milieu Magazine, introduces these extraordinary women to the Long Island community.
Full Steam Ahead
In the past 20 years, women have made tremendous strides in the traditionally male-dominated fields of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM). The Arts were added to create “STEAM” to meld the creative problem-solving and flexible thinking needed to resolve some of today’s most complex challenges.
Often, STEAM careers were considered not suitable for women and some were even forbidden from applying for certain positions. Today, we know that women have not only the capability to excel at these jobs, they have the talent and genuine interest in STEAM fields to tackle such universal problems as global warming and make unprecedented advances in medical research.
The women profiled in this Milieu STEAM story are all from Long Island, all top in their respective fields, and are strong, professional and positive influences in their workplaces and communities.
In 2012, the Girl Scout Research Institute released a study that found an overwhelming majority of girls want a career that they love. To that end, Suffolk County Girl Scouts recently opened The Discovery World Science and Technology Center at Camp Sobaco in Yaphank to support efforts to foster girls’ interests in STEAM careers.
Young girls want careers where they can use their creativity and make the world a better place, so instead of looking at the hard and fast definition of a scientist or engineer, they are learning that STEAM careers can be exciting and have a tremendous impact on their community and around the world.
Young girls need mentors who can share their experience and expertise, and sometimes all it takes for a girl to get interested in science is experiencing it hands-on.
According to the National Council for Women and Information Technology, there will be more than 1 million computer specialist job openings in the United States by the year 2020, with women having the capability of filling 50 percent of those jobs.
In order for that to happen, women need to earn a much larger percentage of STEAM degrees, so the need to nurture this talent has to start when they are young.
“We open the center to as many people as possible,” explains Yvonne Grant, executive director of Suffolk County Girl Scouts. “We are coordinating with school districts and we have teachers who have volunteered their time.”
The Discovery World Science & Technology STEM center is decorated in bright colors with a DNA-theme throughout. Most of the center’s design was conceived by Jenna Grant, whose use of LED-flower chandeliers and ceiling-lit constellations and shooting stars was well planned out.
“At the center they can decide to pursue what really interests them. We give them that opportunity. All programs are hands-on, ” Grant says.
With the Girl Scouts taking the lead in educating young girls about STEAM careers, many will find their career goals earlier in life, allowing them to go Full STEAM Ahead and explore exactly what path they would like to take.
MARIA EMANUEL RYAN, DDS, PHD
Professor and Chair of Oral Biology & Pathology, School of Dental Medicine, Stony Brook University
In 1886, New Yorker Lucy Hobbs Taylor overcame numerous obstacles and challenges to become the first American woman to graduate from a dental school.
More than a century later, Maria Ryan of Laurel Hollow became the first female dentist to graduate from the State University at Stony Brook and go on to pursue a tenure track position, a prestigious designation that includes institutional support for research and the freedom to explore new ideas and interests, to teach and administrate.
Her choice of careers was not without pitfalls, however, and the question of work-life balance had to be addressed.
“There was concern on how I could do both,” explains Ryan. “My chair at the time, Israel Kleinberg, was one of the few who recognized that diversity was good and the profession itself was moving in that direction.”
With her own sense of style, Ryan, though petite, walks confidently in her Christian Louboutin high heels as she navigates the halls of the school.
Today, almost 50 percent of dental school graduates are women. What is lagging behind is the number of women who are committed to moving up the academic ladder by taking administrative positions as department chairs and deans.
Ryan was a trailblazer who pursued a triple track: dentistry, administration and research, which she believes goes hand-in-hand with being an academic administrator.
“It’s our role to help the profession move forward,” she says. “We need to diagnose, find new treatments and a cure. It’s our obligation to do that.”
Ryan was selected to attend the Executive Leadership in Academic Medicine (ELAM) program at Drexel University, the only in-depth national program to prepare women faculty at schools of medicine and dentistry to effect positive change as institutional leaders.
“The Drexel program was created to first help female physicians get the experience and training to run a school, to move into administrative roles and gain the experience and training that is necessary,” she explains. “It’s almost like a mini-MBA program and they expanded the program to include female dentists.”
“The women who attend ELAM go up the ladder in medicine and dentistry,” adds Ryan. “I was fortunate that at an important time in my career development, our university president Shirley Strum Kenny was very supportive of me being a woman in a leadership role.”
Traditionally it was never considered the track that women would take—the majority of women dentists still opt to work in a private practice setting —but according to Ryan, there are enough role models in place who can encourage them to go into academics and research.
For Ryan, a family history of diabetes that brings a high-risk to her own health was the catalyst in her desire to research the disease.
“Diabetes is an epidemic of our time, the numbers of those affected is growing rapidly,” she says. “Most people have no clue there is a correlation between your oral health and your overall health.”
Since dentists can participate in screening for diabetes, Ryan is working with health insurance companies to offer coverage, ensuring optimal oral health for treatment.
“If you don’t treat periodontitis, no matter how much you watch your diet, take medication and insulin, it’s very hard to gain control of your diabetes because oral inflammation will cause insulin resistance,” she explains. “You have to manage infection and inflammation to better control diabetes. It’s a vicious cycle.”
Faculty members within Ryan’s department have also developed new drugs and products that are available nationally, including Smart Mouth and Colgate Pro Relief toothpaste.
Laboratory studies in progress are focused on the development of new drugs to manage diabetic complications, the correlation of HPV and oral cancer and important stem cell research using teeth and pulpal tissue.
For Ryan, her choices have given her the ability and satisfaction to be fully vested in her career.
“I still treat patients on a one-on-one basis, but when you do research you can have an even greater impact,” she says. “You can contribute to the health of the population in general.”
As an administrator, Ryan can see the impact her studies have had on a much larger scale, evident by the numerous awards, patents and accolades she’s received throughout her career.
“I’ve lectured all over the world and it’s very exciting,” she says. “It’s a lot of work, but the opportunities for women are great.”
To learn more go to: Dentistry.StonyBrookMedicine.edu
THE NEXT BIG THING
LINDA CHAN – Senior IT Director – Veeco Instruments
As the senior IT director at Veeco Instruments for more than 14 years, Linda Chan of Smithtown helped the company consolidate and grow Information Technology globally by always following her motto: “Yes I can.”
“They asked me to do a little programming, documentation—anything they asked, I said I could do,” she explains about her start at the company.
Linda’s “Can-Do” attitude got her promoted into the IT department, where she thrived, working with the CFO for nearly a decade. Now, proud of the legacy she’s helped build and confident in Veeco’s future, Chan is seizing upon other opportunities to unleash untapped creativity, and is leaving to pursue a new career.
“Everything is functioning fine at Veeco and I’m looking to reinvent myself now,” she says. “I love the people here and I’m really sad leaving, but I needed the next challenge.”
It’s an inspiring leap of faith that all young women should take note of.
Linda is looking to use technology to bring a competitive advantage in a new industry.
“I’m very excited to make a transition,” she says. “I see a huge opportunity in data analytics to make the invisible, visible, and to form a competitive advantage using information technology and connecting it to the business.”
Working with the chief marketing officer using data and analytics and melding it to other data to find out what is going to drive revenue will be key to success.
“The data is out there and is a treasure trove of information,” she explains. “It will be my job to find out how to use data to make the most of it and learn why people are going to buy a particular product or idea more than another. What’s going to be the next big thing?”
As a technology expert, Chan is up on what’s new and useful, especially the latest apps.
So are her children, she says.
“My daughter has been in the theater since she was 7 years old and she uses her technical skills to update the website and social media,” she explains.
As the mother of three—now 20, 13 and 11—Chan believes “You don’t have to be a superhero, you need to outsource and delegate.”
“I was watching a Sara Jessica Parker movie the other night called I Don’t Know How She Does It and I said to myself, ‘She didn’t have the right apps,’” she laughs.
Chan’s App of the Moment? “Life360.”
It’s a family locator, messaging tool and communication application all in one, which creates a private “Family Circle” so members can know each others’ whereabouts and stay in constant touch.
“I can see where my children are, if they missed curfew, and it lets you know about any crime activity in the area,” explains Chan. “I can also set up alerts and a panic alert if they are in trouble.”
For Chan, the term “technology” means so much more than what most perceive. For her, it’s about reinventing this world for the better, into something wonderful, beautiful.
“Technology is much more than putting together wires, coding or just sitting behind a computer,” she explains. “With technology you can use anything. I’m going to follow my passion and dream to use technology towards transformation.”
To learn more, go to: Veeco.com
Partner, Cameron Engineering & Associates
Janice Jijina wanted to create comprehensive plans for communities—the extraordinarily effective, streamlined approach to making action-oriented policy decisions.
So, the Bellmore resident studied to become an urban planner.
It wasn’t until she met a marine biologist during a Nassau County summer internship that her dreams began to take flight, altering her course of study and ultimately, her life.
Jijina’s mentor was Dr. Anita Freudenthal, of the Marine Ecology Section of the Nassau County Health Department.
“Talk about powerful women and mentors,” recalls Jijina, who eventually earned her Master’s degree in marine biology and began working for the county. “That internship was a wonderful experience. She taught me there was nothing a woman can’t do.”
One of her most rewarding tasks, she says, was creating a database of the plants and animals that live in Long Island waters.
Freudenthal started an environmental science committee, and Jijina went on to chair not only that but become president of the nonprofit New York Water Environment Association (NYWEA). At NYWEA, she became involved in school programs and public education efforts on “floatables” contaminating Long Island’s beaches and waterways.
It was there that Jijina’s life took yet another turn professionally when she met John Cameron, founder and managing partner of Cameron Engineering, who offered her a position as an environmental scientist.
“I learned a lot about engineering,” explains Jijina, “and Cameron encouraged me to sit for the PE [Professional Engineer] Exam.
“I passed it on the first try. So I came to become an engineer in a roundabout way.”
Jijina says that planning and engineering often go together: “How are we going to do this? What’s the cost and how do we get it done?”
There were still obstacles to overcome. “I would go to all these dinners and meetings and it was me and about 60 guys,” she recalls of her time as a member and then Long Island chapter chair of NYWEA.
She complained about the gender disparity to the membership.
Their answer? “Then do something about it.”
Jijina took them at their word, inviting women engineers and scientists to meet, which transformed into women mentoring each other and giving advice about work-related issues and familial matters.
Jijina was also asked to put together an issue of NYWEA’s Clearwaters magazine specifically devoted to women in the environmental field.
“I wrote an article about women and engineering and science with my daughter, who was an intern at the firm,” she recalls. “It was really fun to share that experience with her.”
NYWEA distributed thousands of copies to guidance offices around the state in an effort to encourage young women to pursue environmental careers.
“There has been a huge shift in the past 20 years of women getting into the field,” says Jijina.
At Cameron, Jijina discovered the diversity of engineering, planning and environmental science as the perfect combination for her career.
“I use a little bit of everything here,” she explains. “We’ve done waterfront projects, restoration plans for West Meadow Beach—I’m still very involved with the water. That’s all come together, and planning has been at the forefront after Sandy.”
Working with the government and communities affected by Sandy also gives Jijina job satisfaction.
“We find out what are the damages are, their needs, what opportunities were presented and come up with strategies to help put the community back together,” she explains.
Some of those projects included shoreline stabilization, drainage systems, generators for fire houses—anything that would make those communities more resilient.
Ultimately, Jijina’s been applying her skills and education to make a difference in the lives of many —utilizing engineering as a vehicle for change.
“After Sandy, I was doing all of this recovery work while my own house was damaged,” she says. “It gave me a real understanding of what everyone was going through.”
To learn more, go to: CameronEngineering.com
JILL RADER LEVINE, MA
Artist, Curator and Photojournalist
“Let’s go into your imagination and take a visual tour of summer as expressed by a multitude of Long Island’s talented artists and photographers,” says Jill Rader Levine as we recently toured her newly curated art exhibit “Endless Summer—Visions of Long Island” at the LIU POST University Center’s Hutchins Gallery in Brookville.
Levine explains that her role as curator is to display the artwork of the artists and photographers that she invited to exhibit in this show so that each flows together cohesively. Each submission is the artist’s interpretation of life on LI through photographs, digital art, pencil, fabric arts, multi-media, oil, watercolor and iPad-generated art.
“Endless Summer,” is Levine’s second exhibit on view this year. Her first debuted this past March, when Levine saw an opportunity to recognize LI women artists who have made a contribution to the arts.
“I’ve always enjoyed reaching out to the community and have worked on local events for years,” she says.
Levine’s idea was to show a moment in the life of a women’s experience, from her point of view. The exhibit was called “Women of the World” and coincided with National Women’s History month.
“I started reaching out to women artists I admired that I’d met at exhibits and attending workshops with,” she says.
Word spread, and many artists asked to be included in the show.
With the support of Nassau County Comptroller George Maragos, Levine’s vision was touted as an “amazing art venture.”
The preview show was a huge success with more than 300 attendees. Levine’s efforts gathered 55 artists who exhibited more than 100 works of art.
“The Endless Summer” exhibit, which included more than 150 submissions from both men and women, brings another dimension to her shows: charitable fundraising.
“There is a wonderful synergy between art and charities,” she says. “Each artist contributed a minimum donation that was set for the exhibit.”
Levine chose the Nassau County Fire Fighters Wounded Warriors as the charitable recipient from her “Endless Summer” exhibit.
Levine’s birthday is Nov. 11, which is Veteran’s Day. “So I have a special interest in our veterans,” she explains.
Included in the exhibit were two oil paintings by Levine’s granddaughter, Lindsey, 15.
“She came to visit me and we went on a whirlwind tour of museums, the Met, MOMA and Nassau County Museum of Art,” says Levine. “I told her when she goes home perhaps she can spearhead an event for charity.”
“I was born an artist and am an artist first,” she continues. “I was an art educator and went into interior design for many years. I received my Master’s degree in photography, a field that I didn’t study before. Design is design I still enjoy teaching art and have volunteered my time this year to give painting workshops at local museums and gardens..”
“You never know what moment will ignite a career in art,” she adds. “Anytime you are exposed to art it’s a wonderful thing.”
For more information, email: WomenWorldArt14@aol.com
“WHY” IS JUST A CROOKED LETTER
MONA SPECTOR, PHD
Staff Geneticist, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, DNA Learning Center
Mona Spector of Cold Spring Harbor says she was always inquisitive and loved science. Yet achieving her dream of working in that field required a journey of discovery no one could have ever predicted.
Growing up in Brooklyn, she recalls asking her mother so many questions she would eventually answer, “Why is just a crooked letter.”
“I grew up in a family where no one had gone to college,” she explains. “I was supposed to graduate from high school and get a job.”
Wanting to continue her education, Mona lived at home and worked part-time so she could attend college. She graduated with a merchandising degree and worked as a buyer in the garment district.
“It was not for me, I missed science,” she recalls of that time.
So Spector went back to school thinking that a career in physical therapy would soothe her craving for science, but says she cried every day. Finally, a mentor brought Spector into a working laboratory and showed her an experiment they were working on with snails.
“From then on I was hooked,” she says.
Scientists have been saddled with a reputation of being humorless and overly analytical and Spector dispels that myth with her rich and vibrant personality.
“Scientists come in every day and discover something new. You don’t sleep, you dream about what you’re going to do next. You’re discovering data, interpreting the data, thinking of new experiments. I can’t imagine doing anything else.”
Spector ultimately earned her doctorate studying cell-division control at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center.
“Cancer is a disease of normal cells going awry,” she explains. “If you can understand how normal cells work you can figure out what went wrong with them and intervene.”
“What happens to normal cells after they are damaged?” Spector asks. “Why do cancer cells keep dividing out of control and why do they lack a process which allows them to die like damaged normal cells? They ignore everything in the environment.”
And while Spector was devoting her career to studying cancer cells, she was diagnosed with breast cancer herself—the diagnosis further fueling her passion for finding a cure.
Spector was in the laboratory seeking answers, and it brought a perspective to her research.
“There was no such thing as night,” she says during that period of working almost 24/7.
She is a survivor, 11 years now.
Spector’s enthusiasm never wavered for her vocation, and now, Big Data—data sets so large it’s very difficult to synthesize potential revelatory findings—is at the top of her list.
“It’s important for people to understand that we can sequence whole genomes now,” she says. “The human genome has 3 billion base pairs of DNA. We used to sequence a thousand. It’s an enormous amount of data. You have to manage that data, store it and analyze it. We need to collaborate with other scientists on that.”
Spector has already been credited with finding two previously unknown gene mutations as a result of studying a patient’s DNA with mast cell leukemia.
“I sequenced the genomes of both the cancer cells and normal cells and I looked for mutations in cancer cells,” she explains of the remarkable discoveries. “If you can find the mutation you can target the cancer cells with drugs and not treat the whole person, sparing the normal cells. That’s the goal for targeted chemotherapy.”
Spector simply cannot keep her passion of science bottled up. In addition to having spent countless hours in the lab, she feels compelled to share her knowledge with the rest of the world, both furthering its impact and inspiring others on their own roads to discovery.
She recently co-taught a two-week workshop for university professors from around the country about Big Data.
“I led them through a workshop of next generation sequencing so they could bring it back to their universities,” she says. “They are very motivated to get their students into their resource programs and labs.”
She is on a mission to introduce as many people as she can to the wonder of science and the potential to change the world.
“I want to get students engaged and excited about science,” she says. “At the learning center we engage middle and high school students in real experiments and they love it.”
“We have to get science out there more,” continues Spector. “Somebody introduced me to science and I have to give back.
“Although I loved science, I grew up without being exposed to scientific career options, and would like to reach those kids, ones who might never have the opportunity otherwise.”
For more information, email: firstname.lastname@example.org