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ASU women in science on their purpose and why representation is important


Woman looking into a microscope in a lab.

Photo courtesy Pexels

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February 10, 2023

While the United Nations designation of Feb. 11 as the International Day of Women and Girls in Science seeks to bring recognition their role in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), a 2022 National Science Foundation report found that women remained underrepresented in the fields relative to their proportion within the United States population.

At Arizona State University, equitable education is embedded in the Sun Devil community year-round.

ASU Online, a leader in providing high-quality, online education, has developed science programs that once were only accessible in person, such as biological sciences, applied biological sciences (preveterinary medicine), astronomical and planetary sciences and neuroscience. These programs are taught by faculty members who inspire, advance research and hold space for those who will move the science forward.

Because of the many online programs offered through ASU, students — and especially women — now have the opportunity to pursue their passions or a career they didn’t consider a possibility.

Brionne Dillard, a recent ASU Online biological sciences graduate, credits her mother and grandmother as her inspiration for pursuing a career in medicine and law.

“I have always looked up to my mother,” she said. “She is the most intelligent, poised woman I have ever met. She accomplishes anything she aims to and she does it all exceptionally well.”

Why are role models and representation important for women in STEM and other fields? Research shows that it allows them to see themselves in careers, positions and occupations that they might not otherwise have considered to be attainable. Put simply: seeing is believing.

“Women have so much to contribute to the field of science, so we must be represented,” Dillard said. “Our perspective is a necessary component of shaping the future of the field.”

Biological science student Danielle Kollander agrees. She believes the contributions that women bring to the field of medicine are of value because of the connection that is formed between provider and patient.

“Women, especially moms, tend to be more empathetic and have the ability to really connect to their patients as people rather than just a provider-patient relationship,” Kollander said.

At ASU Online, there are many more students like Dillard and Kollander who are changing the field of science and, perhaps more importantly, providing role models and representation for a younger generation.

“More representation of women in the field will show younger girls who are aspiring to be scientists or doctors that it is possible and that they can have a thriving, meaningful career just like their male counterparts,” Kollander said.

Read about a few ASU Online students, their aspirations, their journeys and their goals, and explore your own path in STEM.

Brionne Dillard

ASU Online alumn Desiree (Brionne) Dillard

Degree: Biological Sciences
College: ASU Online

As a child, I thought that I would be a famous singer/songwriter/actor. My dream was always to reach people and make a positive difference in their lives. I have been given such beautiful opportunities in my life to accomplish this goal. Now I will be an MD/JD, still pursuing my dream of powerful impact, but in a completely different way than I anticipated. I'll definitely always use music as an outlet though!

My advice to other women and girls is to never accept "no" as an answer without exhausting your options. If you believe you can pursue a career in STEM (which you absolutely can, girl!), then do not let anyone deter you.

Danielle Kollander

ASU Online student Danielle Kollander in a science lab

Degree: Biological Sciences
College: The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

As a kid, I always wanted to get into science. I used to dream of working as a marine biologist. One of my favorite places to go was the Ocean Institute in Dana Point, California. Being a trainer at Seaworld San Diego and working with animals was a goal I had as well.

When I was diagnosed with diabetes, my life changed and I found myself in hospitals and doctors' offices much more than the average 12-year-old. My goals quickly shifted from wanting to learn everything about ocean animals to understanding everything that makes our bodies work — or in my case, not work — correctly.

My education goals now are still to learn everything I can about the human body and eventually become a provider that is able to help patients when things go wrong. I’ve had the opportunity to spend time in a genetics research lab and a cancer evolution lab, which was not something I expected to be able to experience being an online student. 

I am finishing my last few semesters at ASU Online, working in the Arizona Cancer Evolution Center through the ACE Scholars Program and shadowing a pediatrician as I get ready to take the MCAT. The goal is to finish medical school and open my own private practice that uses biological (Western) medicine with a holistic approach to help kids navigate life and thrive with Type 1 diabetes.

Isabella Rezende

ASU Online student Isabella Rezende in a science lab

Degree: Biochemistry — Medicinal Chemistry
College: The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

As a biochemistry (medicinal chemistry) senior at ASU, I frequently think about my journey over the years that has brought me to my final undergraduate semester. As I turn 19 this month, I look back on the past six years of my life and reflect on what has brought me to this point.

I began my academic career at a community college in a small town in rural North Carolina when I was 13 years old and somehow managed to find myself finishing up my undergrad studies on the opposite side of the country. While I always enjoyed science and chemistry from a young age, I really discovered my love for it by taking a general chemistry class early in my studies at the community college. 

I was always fascinated by medicine and one day hoped to see myself in the medical field. In my early teens, upon taking several chemistry classes, I wanted to go to medical school and decided ASU was the path to begin my long journey. As I prepare to begin the first steps of my medical school journey, I have great hope for the future as I reflect on the past and look forward to what is to come.

Allison Rutkowski

ASU Online student Allison Rutkowski

Degree: Biochemistry — Medicinal Chemistry
College: The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

For as long as I can remember, I have always loved anything related to math or science, and I knew that I was going to work toward a career in one of those fields. Both my mother and aunt served as an extra source of motivation for me. My mom studied premed, specializing in immunology, and my aunt had her PhD in biochemistry. 

I have countless fond memories of accompanying my aunt to her lab as well as talking with my mom about microbiology. However, up until my sophomore year of high school, I had my sights set on marine biology. It wasn’t until I took a chemistry class that I changed my mind and I realized just how fascinating it was. I decided that I was going to get my degree in chemistry, more specifically biochemistry, and follow in my aunt’s steps. 

I hope to make them proud and show them just how big of an impact they had. My love for all things science and math was always encouraged, and I truly feel grateful to be surrounded by such intelligent people that shared their passions with me.

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