The University Award for the Advancement of Women, UAAW, annual award recognizes people on campus who have elevated the status of women, helped improve campus policies, promoted recruitment, retention and upward mobility of women and participated in professional development or mentorship for women. Two Carolina Chemistry graduate students, Leah Bowers and Jennifer Fulton were honored at a March 19 ceremony.
Leah Bowers, a graduate student in the Papanikolas Group, liked the idea behind Women in Science in Engineering – women supporting other women in a male-dominated area of academia. But Bowers quickly realized, "We can do more to foster an inclusive environment." Wanting to expand the group to include men and broaden its scope to include other minorities "to show that these issues were affecting everyone," she found a fellow chemistry graduate student, Jennifer Fulton from the Jeffrey Johnson Group, who shared her vision. Together Leah and Jennifer re-shaped Allies for Minorities and Women in Science and Engineering "to harness the power WISE had accrued to affect positive change," Bowers said.
Like good researchers, they began with data, administering a climate survey originally developed by the biology department to their colleagues in the chemistry and physics departments. Jennifer has since collaborated with students and faculty to distribute the survey in five additional departments. Based on the survey results, AM_WISE launched several key initiatives: mentorship training for all incoming tenure-track chemistry faculty, a mentee training series for graduate students and post-docs, a town hall where students and post-docs from the chemistry, physics and biology departments were able to share their thoughts. When faculty expressed concern about how they were supposed to handle reports of sexual harassment, AM_WISE and the faculty Diversity Committee began developing a step-by-step instruction manual with a "clear line of response," Jennifer said. "We are focused on practical change."
When they first came to the department, Both Leah and Jennifer felt that discussing their diverse passions and interests in the lab was frowned upon. Leah also felt isolated because there weren’t many other researchers who looked like her. Now they work to ensure all underrepresented groups are strongly supported at work and free to explore both traditional and non-traditional career paths. Leah intends to pursue the freelance creation of illustrations for STEM researchers who need them for grant proposals, academic presentations and press conferences. In the future, she wants to use her art in conjunction with science to help the public "understand and trust" science. Jennifer hopes to continue her career as a synthetic organic chemist in industry.