Not all superheroes come outfitted with capes or golden lassos. Some, like AAAS Member Endia Santee, Ph.D., a public health scientist and medical writer consultant, equip themselves with knowledge and facts, and instead of fighting crime, they inspire others — particularly younger generations — to see the possibilities of things to come.
Santee is an “AAAS Superhero” in the Women in STEM online AAAS Community platform, a social network for AAAS Members to converse and collaborate on STEM topics within specific topic-based communities. In her Superhero role, Santee volunteers to help build community among women scientists and STEM advocates. She helps lead discussions, provides feedback to the AAAS Membership team, and engages in other endeavors to highlight and promote Women in STEM.
For instance, to celebrate Women’s History Month, Santee recently posted biographies of women in STEM, both historical and contemporary figures, who have paved and continue to pave the way for girls and women in science. Some of the women honored in these posts included geologist and oceanographic cartographer Marie Tharp; astronomer Annie Jump Cannon; and theoretical physicist, AAAS Fellow, and current president of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Shirley Ann Jackson, Ph.D.
“My goal for the Women in STEM community is to make it a platform that is more than what I post,” says Santee. “I want to make it an opportunity for women who are part of the community to share their stories, ask questions, and start discussions that we can possibly take beyond the community page into monthly Zoom meetings or coffee hours.”
To that end, AAAS is planning monthly Women in STEM Zoom meetings and a book club, with Santee leading the first of these activities.
“I volunteered to host the first book club meeting,” says Santee. “I strongly believe that the book club, video chat meetings, and future in-person meetings will help build a strong community over time and strengthen relationships among members of Women in STEM and future allies.”
Furthermore, she says, she hopes that those who participate in the Women in STEM community, who are comprised of scientists from disparate fields who are at different levels in their careers — from students and post-docs to seasoned pros — feel a sense of agency and that they know that it is a safe and inclusive space. For instance, says Santee, some women may want to talk about what it’s like being a woman who just had a baby and how that affects her work when she comes back, or how COVID-19 has affected women’s ability to work at home with children, topics some women may not feel comfortable discussing in more public spaces out of a concern that it may affect their job security.
“I hope that learning about the stories of STEM women will inspire and encourage them,” says Santee.
Just as Santee hopes the work of Women in STEM will inspire future scientists, she herself was inspired by the story of analytical chemist and science communicator Raychelle Burks, Ph.D., who is one of the women scientists featured in “Picture a Scientist,” a 2020 film that chronicled the experiences and barriers women faced in their science careers.
“I’d been a member of AAAS for several years but because it is such a large organization, I had no idea where to start,” says Santee. It wasn’t until she saw a post in the Women in STEM community about “Picture a Scientist” that she hit upon a way to serve in AAAS, says Santee.
The film, which was shared with AAAS Members in a free digital screening earlier this year, had a personal impact on Santee. She reached out to the AAAS Membership department to see what she could do to further outreach and support for other women in STEM.
In many ways, Santee’s ability to recognize and understand the important impact science and diversity can have in people’s lives has been a guiding point in her career. In 2017, Science published a letter from Santee (one of a few selected from over 150 responses to questions posed by AAAS Force for Science that asked questions such as “Why is science important to you?” and “How has science affected your life, your career, or your community?”) in which Santee noted that science was integral to bringing attention to the systemic environmental racism and the disaster known as The Flint Water Crisis, which affected her hometown.
Improving public health has been a goal of Santee’s career, something that she became interested in as a young girl.
“Cancer runs rampant in my family,” says Santee. Her maternal grandmother died of advanced-stage lung cancer when Santee was about 9 years old; her mother has beaten both stage 3 colorectal and early-stage breast cancer; and her aunt survived a battle with aggressive breast cancer. Her family’s history played a role in her wanting to examine the role factors such as economic stability, neighborhood, and education can have on the quality of life after cancer treatment.
In her spare time, Santee is an avocational invertebrate paleontologist, which means that when she’s not working in her chosen field of public health, she searches for fossils in public parks in Cincinnati, Southwestern Ohio, Kentucky, and Indiana — a passion she says was sparked by her father’s love of geology, specifically geomorphology.
Santee was recently elected to serve on the Diversity and Inclusion Committee at the Paleontological Society and also serves as a member of the minority affairs committee of the American College of Epidemiology, which aims to increase both racial and gender diversity in the field.
“Everywhere that I am, whether it’s the AAAS Women in STEM community, the Paleontological Society, or the American College of Epidemiology, all these professional societies that I am a part of, I do the same work,” says Santee. “I hope to promote diversity and inclusion in science across the board.”