News: News Archives
U.S. Researchers on Panel
Promote Women in Science
As young women, Araceli Espinosa, Nora Sabelli, and Josefina Coloma had realized that the way they looked at the world would take them far from home, challenge them to overcome traditional expectations of women, and make them seek mentors and money that would help earn them the PhDs they would need to become full-fledged researchers.
They had a chance to tell their stories on 28 August in Costa Rica, before an audience of scientists, many of them women who would like to follow in the three women's career paths.
Now, with years of successful work behind them, Sabelli, Espinosa and Coloma, all of whom live and work in California, have been chosen to join three Costa Rican women scientists as speakers on a panel that was sponsored by AAAS and by CONICIT, Costa Rica's national research agency, which is celebrating its 30th anniversary.
"We have selected these women for their outstanding work as scientists and engineers, and for their compelling personal stories about the challenges they faced in the pursuit of a scientific career," said Alan I. Leshner, CEO of AAAS. "We hope that the experiences of these distinguished scientists will inspire young women to become scientists and engineers, and provide them with a strategy for getting there."
Araceli Espinosa-Jeffrey, 47 and a neurochemist at the Neuropsychiatry Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles, collected spiders and "window mosquitoes" at her home in Mexico City when she was five, and knew that she wanted to be a chemist by the time she was ten. By 17, she had settled on biology. But her parents disagreed.
"It was as if a newborn bird had been put in a cage with kangaroos," she said of her efforts to study mathematicsher parents' choice. "I was strong enough to move toward what I wanted, rather than doing what my parents wanted me to do. I believe that my story might help some of these young ladies overcome the obstacles and fight harder for what they would like to study."
This fight continued past her decision to study biology as an undergraduate. After Espinosa-Jeffrey completed her undergraduate degree in Mexico City, she was encouraged to stay and continue her good work as a teacher and researcher.
"Once I completed my undergraduate studies, the faculty insisted that I should continue teaching and working in research to the extent possible at the Universidad Autonoma de Mexico. However, I was conscious that I was not ready to stop studying and that to accomplish a successful career, I needed to be exposed to new methods and to work in labs where adequate supplies, equipment and expertise are available."
For the last nine years, she has served as the chair of the Inter-American Cooperation Committee of the American Society for Neurochemistry. In this capacity, Espinosa-Jeffrey has begun to link universities and institutes throughout all of the Americas.
Nora Sabelli, 65 and a native of Buenos Aires, was named after a character in Ibsen's A Doll's House, and has often thought about how fortunate she was to escape the expectations that might have prevented her becoming a theoretical chemist. But raising girls so that they believe they can become scientists is only the beginning, says Sabelli, who retired as a researcher and professor from the University of Illinois, and now is co-director of a nonprofit educational research center in Menlo Park, CA.
"Expectations are only the starting point," says Sabelli, who has also written extensively about science education. "The human and organizational infrastructure must be in place for individuals to succeed in the face of the challenges they will face."
Maria Josefina Coloma, 36, was born in Quito, Ecuador, where she realized early on that, "the path closes after a 'Licenciatura,' or Masters degree." However, Coloma reached past the boundaries of her environment and in 1997 earned a Ph.D. in from the department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics at the University of California, Los Angeles.
Coloma attributes her successful path to a Ph.D. to a series of opportunities and people. "After the GREs and a long chain of events, mentors, good will and coincidences I was able to open a path in the scientific world in the United States. Meanwhile my family and friends back in Ecuador supported me with all decisions but could not give me any advice."
As a member of a laboratory at the University of California in Berkeley, Coloma studies the structure and development of dengue, an infectious disease that every year causes hundreds of thousands of cases of hemorrhagic fever around the world, killing thousands of people. Although she loves the "bench work," Coloma dedicates herself to building bridges between, "first-world science" and "third world problems."
In addition to her work in Central and South America in the development and implementation of more cost-effective methods for the diagnosis of dengue, the microbiologist says she is proud of her other accomplishments. "Through workshops and conferences, I have trained and transferred my knowledge to scientists in the developing world and I have been able to build research capacity in laboratories in Central and South America where it is needed."
These efforts inspired the creation of the Sustainable Sciences Institute, a non-profit organization for which she serves as an active board member.
"We have long lasting and active collaborations with scientists and diverse institutions in several developing countries including Ecuador."
Coloma, Espinosa and Sabelli are in the first of three groups of women scientists invited to speak in Latin America by AAAS and Interciencia, a federation of associations for the advancement of science in the Americas. Two other groups of three women scientists will be sent to scientific meetings in the coming monthsone in Panama in November, and a second in Recife, Brazil in July 2003. The goal of the initiative, funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) is to increase the visibility of the careers of U.S. women scientists, and to increase the participation of women in the scientific enterprise in the Latin America region.
28 August 2002