2016 L’Oreal USA Fellowship Winners to Help Women Succeed in STEM

AAAS Chief Operating Officer Celeste Rohlfing, left, joined L’Oreal USA in honoring five early career scientists – Shruti Naik, Amy Orsborn, Laura Sampson, Anela Choy and Moriel Zelikowsky – for their dedication to mentoring fellow women scientists and commitment to increasing ranks of women in STEM fields. | L’Oreal USA

Five early career scientists committed to supporting the advancement of women and girls in science, technology, engineering and math fields have been awarded L’Oreal USA For Women in Science Fellowships at a ceremony in Washington, D.C.

The program, funded by L’Oreal USA and administered by AAAS, recognizes female postdoctoral researchers who are working at the leading edge of their fields and have shown commitment to helping other women achieve similar success. Each winner receives a $60,000 grant to advance her research and develop her scientific career.

Women make up only 24% of the STEM workforce in the United States and lowering barriers faced by women in those fields is a task of global importance, said AAAS Chief Operating Officer Celeste Rohlfing at the October 6th award ceremony honoring the winners. “It is no secret that women are underrepresented in science and technology, dramatically so in some disciplines,” said Rohlfing. “This remarkable gender gap in one of the most significant professional fields must be closed if we are to advance as a global society.”

The grants, awarded in an effort to close that gap, are given to women at a critical moment in their careers, and can be used more flexibly than government research grants, said Yolanda George, AAAS Program Director for the fellowship. “They can use money to travel and give seminars at institutions, or to go on international research trips,” George said. “If they are on maternity leave, they can use it to pay a colleague to help continue their research.”

Mary Caswell Stoddard, assistant professor in the department of ecology and evolutionary biology at Princeton University and a 2013 award recipient, said L’Oreal USA’s FWIS Fellowship provided her with invaluable support for her postdoctoral research program.

“Independent research funding for postdocs is very difficult to come by; this program helps to fill that critical gap,” said Stoddard, who was able to purchase laboratory equipment and hire research assistants with her grant money. She also credited the program with connecting her to the network of 60 other successful female scientists who have received the award over its 13-year history in the U.S.

This year’s fellowships went to five women in different disciplines: Anela Choy, a postdoctoral fellow at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI); Shruti Naik, a postdoctoral scientist at The Rockefeller University; Amy Orsborn, a postdoctoral scientist from New York University; Laura Sampson, a postdoctoral fellow at Northwestern University’s Center for Interdisciplinary Exploration and Research in Astrophysics (CIERA); and Moriel Zelikowsky, a postdoctoral neuroscientist at the California Institute of Technology.

Choy’s grant will allow her to extend her research tenure at the MBARI, where she studies the intricacies of oceanic food webs and how they are impacted by plastic pollution and other environmental stressors. She was recognized for cofounding and managing the School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology’s Maile Mentoring Bridge program at the University of Hawai‘i to support Native Hawaiians and other underrepresented ethnic minorities in ocean and earth sciences.

Naik’s study of immunology and stem cell biology includes examining how stem cells might be used to treat inflammatory skin disorders like psoriasis. The grant will allow her to produce a series of interviews with female scientists to inspire the next generation of women in STEM careers. Naik was recognized for her work with the Women in Science at Rockefeller program which she expanded to more than 250 members from six members.

Orsborn will use her grant to fund neurological research, which focuses on the interactions between the brain and the body during movement, as well as how to restore function lost due to neurological diseases and disorders. Orsborn is also part of a team developing a web application that aims to help increase diversity at scientific conferences.

Sampson’s grant will enable her in part to extend her research appointment at CIERA, where she is developing algorithms to analyze systems that produce gravitational waves. She will use another portion of her grant to develop a music-based outreach program. Sampson co-founded and served as the president of a Women in Science & Engineering Chapter at Montana State University to support other female students and researchers. 

Zelikowsky is working to understand how the brain encodes traumatic experiences that lead to anxiety, fear, and disordered social behavior, with the goal of informing the development of new treatments for conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder. She will use her grant to bring on and train a female mentee to research the neural mechanisms underlying key emotions. She was recognized for creating the group Women in Learning, a mentorship program for women in neuroscience, as a graduate student at UCLA.

To continue the momentum inspired by the L’Oreal USA For Women in Science Fellowships, AAAS is also administering L’Oreal’s new Changing the Face of STEM Mentoring Grants, designed to support former FWIS fellows to mentor the next generation of women and girls in STEM fields.

In August, the first of these $2,500 grants were awarded to four FWIS alumni: 2010 fellow M. Nia Madison, who will create a two-day Microbiology Girls Club workshop for minority high school students; 2014 fellow Lauren O’Connell, who will double her K-12 “Little Froggers School Program” that provides frog terrariums and educational tools for science classrooms; 2005 fellow Cindy Quezada, who will develop a hands-on internship program for underrepresented community college students at a local hospital and botanical garden; and 2013 fellow Luisa Whittaker-Brooks, who will broaden a one-day Expanding Your Horizon STEM conference for disadvantaged middle- and high-school girls. 

Applications for the 2017 FWIS Fellowships will be accepted beginning on 28 November and can be found here. Women who will be earning their PhDs by 3 February, 2017 are eligible.

[Associated Image: L’Oreal USA]