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Women in Science

The Virginia Tech College of Science is establishing top-notch leadership programs for Women in Science as a way to both empower women scientists and strengthen the influence of women as leaders in scientific fields.

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Trish Hammer; Associate Dean, Faculty Affairs and Graduate Studies

These programs will distinguish our college from competitors and establish the Virginia Tech College of Science as the premier destination for female faculty, staff, and student talent from across the country and around the world.

The College of Science recognizes that women are disproportionately underrepresented in numerous science disciplines. Long-held beliefs that these subjects are fields for men have created an imbalance in representation and result in the absence of women’s voices as important societal decisions are made.

The Women in Science Leadership Programs will offer educational and experiential opportunities for women, complementing existing opportunities for students and faculty within the college. The program will attract and develop extraordinary talent among women scientists, increase the number of women in leadership roles in these fields and increase women’s cultural and scientific impact as they work to address pressing societal challenges.

By participation in the program, women scientists will enhance their ability to assert and influence in industry, nonprofits, academia, and beyond.

Our vision is a transformative cohort-based program committed to excellence and focused on the theory and practice of women’s leadership. Our programs will be educational via an innovative and engaging curriculum focused on leadership skills and leadership theory and experiential via mentoring opportunities, case studies and role playing, guided introspection and opportunities for one-on-one interaction with renowned women scientists.

Building a close-knit and diverse community of women scholars and an unwavering lifelong support system, our programs will prepare them to be innovative and intellectual leaders in their fields through meaningful opportunities. Women in this program will pursue their scholarly passion and develop a deeper understanding of barriers that may hinder their success and strategies and skills to dismantle those barriers and overcome challenges.

Student Researchers

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Emma Lasky

A bit less than two years ago, Emma Lasky, a fourth-year statistics major and cybersecurity minor, was unsure of how to turn her interests into a career post-graduation. Then in 2020, she applied for the Raytheon Technologies Fellowship Program internship at Raytheon Technologies, and has a full-time job lined up at the company post-graduation. In July, she wrote by email, “For my internship, I am currently acting as a data scientist, working on analytics for a team within the company. I primarily work with text data, so I do a lot of data cleaning and text processing, which is a nice change considering that the statistics curriculum focuses on numerical data. In the past, I have also created dynamic visualizations of our data, with filters to isolate certain situations we want to examine closer.”

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, her summer 2021 internship was remote versus her in-person tenure during summer 2020. Nevertheless, the internship provided a unique experiential learning experience. “I have learned a lot about how to identify valuable statistics within data, and how to convey that information to those without data science experience,” Lasky said. “Recently, I worked on an algorithm to isolate the most significant factors in our data, that were causing the greatest impact on the outcome of a binary variable.”

Lasky was one of eight undergraduate students who are part of the Ted and Karyn Hume Center for National Security and Technology’s Cohort 1 of the Raytheon Technologies Fellowship Program. This past spring, Raytheon Technologies agreed to support the fellowship program an additional four years. With the extension of the program, students such as Lasky can transform their interests and passions into careers in cybersecurity, machine learning, and analytics with Raytheon Technologies in support of the Intelligence Community and the U.S. Department of Defense.

"It would be great to be able to inspire a younger generation and to show you don't have to be deterred from your career goals just because you don’t see people who look like you."

—Niesha Savory

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Niesha Savory

Niesha Savory, a fourth-year clinical neuroscience and psychology undergraduate student, always wanted to be a doctor. “That’s what I told my family,” Savory said. “They found anatomy books for me to read, I would borrow books from the library, and I adored reading about the brain and the nervous system.”

This lifelong fascination led Savory to the School of Neuroscience. In 2019, through the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine Early Identification Program, Savory learned about the U.S. National Institutes of Health-funded, 10-week neuroSURF program at the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC, and she spent the summer working in the lab of Shannon Farris. That summer led to more research work with Farris, and Savory being awarded a Research Supplement to Promote Diversity in Health-Related Research by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). Officials there called Savory a promising candidate in neuroscience with access to an excellent research environment and mentoring team. 

“I have been working full time in the lab all summer, and will be until school begins,” Savory said in July. “So far, I’ve gotten the main protocol of my project to work, and got some good pictures. Soon I'll finally be able to start the next step, which I am very excited for.” She also presented and won the Best Undergraduate Poster award at the Central Virginia Chapter of the Society of Neuroscience. 

Researchers in the Farris lab study how connections between individual neurons and synapses change when mice learn or experience new things. They look at how those changes affect memory storage and social behavior. This research, Savory said, will open doors for her path to medical school. 

“I hope to become an M.D./Ph.D., ideally studying dementia caused by Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases while also seeing patients afflicted by those very diseases,” Savory said.

She also hopes to be an example to others. “I don’t see a lot of Black people or Black women in neuroscience with M.D. and Ph.D. degrees,” Savory said. “It would be great to be able to inspire a younger generation and to show you don't have to be deterred from your career goals just because you don’t see people who look like you.”