News: News Archives
Women Researchers Travel to Meetings
to Tell How They Became Scientists
Magaly Spector, physicist, held an audience in Mexico City spellbound last month. The scientific achievements she described were considerable, but it was her personal story that caught their attention.
A Cuban political refugee, chess champion, working mother, and technical supervisor of reliability engineering and hardware optical communication technology at Lucent Technologies, Spector spoke before an audience of fellow women scientists and students in science and engineering at the National Forum on Science, Technology, and Gender in Mexico City. She is one of nine women chosen to participate in the AAAS Lecture Series on Women and Science and Engineering.
"My greatest virtue has been my ability to persevere, to not surrender even when circumstances seemed desperate," Spector told an overflow crowd at the national forum in Mexico City. "My advice to Hispanic women is to look within for the naturally creative capacity that we all have. To search out and ask for help, even if we don't always find it. To not toss aside our aspirations, regardless of how challenging the situation."
Spector was born into a family of women who cleaned houses to support their families. From those economically humble beginnings, she pursued her dream of becoming a physicist. She eventually moved to the United States from Cuba, obtaining her PhD from Lehigh University in 1993.
From 1998 to 2003, Spector was granted four U.S. patents, and filed another four in the fields of semiconductor materials, laser characterization, and optical communications. In 2000, she received the Hispanic National Achievement Award in the category of professional achievement for the year 2000.
Purpose of Program
The AAAS project that brought Spector to Mexico City is funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF). It selects U.S. women scientists with compelling personal stories about overcoming the obstacles of pursuing scientific careers and who are interested in sharing their research and life experiences with wide audiences of scientists, educators, students, and policy-makers in Latin America.
"The project's goals are to increase the visibility of U.S. women scientists and engineers by showcasing their stories and to increase the participation of women in Latin America and the Caribbean," said Marina Ratchford, Senior Program Associate for the AAAS Directorate for Education and Human Resources Programs.
Spector's visit to Mexico City was the third trip in the series, following events in San Jose, Costa Rica and Panama City, Panama. Ratchford added that while each event has been different, the audiences and local organizers have all reacted positively.
"The general reaction from the participants is that they are very grateful to be given this opportunity to think about how they got to where they are today, sometimes for the first time, and in many cases it has been cathartic. It has also given them a chance to share their experiences with the Latin American community and give something back," Ratchford said. "They were very happy to talk about issues that they don't generally get to talk about. Instead of just talking about their research, they were able to reach out to the audience at a more human level and share their life experiences."
Science as "Human Endeavor"
Elba Serrano, a tenured associate professor of biology at New Mexico State University, is one of two participants who will travel to Recife, Brazil, on July 13 to present at the Annual Meeting of the Brazilian Society for the Progress of Science, one of the largest scientific meetings in Latin America. Born in Puerto Rico, but raised all over the world, Serrano received her BA in physics from the University of Rochester and her PhD in biological science from Stanford University. The trilingual neuroscientist plans to talk about educational opportunities, career development, and mentoring programs for women in science. She noted that she will bring one of her graduate students, Shannon Manuelito, to the meeting.
"There are a lot of opportunities in science for women, and information must be distributed about these," Serrano said. "I grew up in an international environment. My perspective has always been globalů. Science is not a national endeavor, but a human endeavor."
Maribel Vazquez, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at the City College of New York, will also attend the meeting. Growing up in a Dominican immigrant family in New York City, Vazquez overcame numerous obstacles to obtain a PhD in Mechanical Engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2001.
While only nine of the 62 applicants were selected for the lecture series, Ratchford noted that a proposal for three more events in the upcoming year has been submitted to the NSF. In addition, the project's staff is currently conducting an analysis of the applications for the project.
"This information provides a sample of women scientists and the kinds of things they have to go through in their scientific careers," Ratchford said.
28 May 2003