BIO5 Women in STEM share challenges, opportunities with aspiring young scientists

Lexi Carbine talking to two female students next to a speaking podium.
The annual BIO5 Inspiring Women in STEM event empowers girls and young women with advice to help navigate a STEM career while pursuing a balanced life.
Brittany Uhlorn, BIO5 Institute

As Alexis Carbine developed a passion for science at a young age, she yearned for a female role model but quickly realized they were few and far between. Carbine recalls searching the internet for notable people in STEM, only to find a list composed entirely of men. Her longing for a female mentor only grew as she got older, but so did the lack of one with whom she could identify.

“I was searching for someone to look up to,” she said, “but I didn’t see the representation of a lot of women in my professors at the UA, or even in high school.”

To provide girls and young adults with resilient female role models and encourage them in their pursuit of a STEM education or career, Carbine, a former BIO5 Ambassador and now UArizona alumna, established the blueprint for the annual BIO5 Inspiring Women in STEM (WiS) event in 2019.

Dr. Jil Tardiff, professor of cellular and molecular medicine, served as the keynote speaker for that inaugural event. The panel was composed of Dr. Jennifer Barton, Director of BIO5 and professor of biomedical engineering; Dr. Bonnie Hurwitz, assistant professor of biosystems engineering; Dr. Anita Koshy, associate professor of neurology and immunobiology; Dr. Joyce Schroeder, head of molecular and cellular biology; statistics and data science undergraduate student TingTing Thompson; and cancer biology doctoral candidate Brittany Uhlorn

Jordan Pilch, a current UArizona undergraduate, BIO5 Public Affairs student assistant, KEYS Research Internship alumna, and now co-facilitator of the BIO5 Ambassador program, helped organize last year’s WiS event. Pilch similarly saw the need for the encouragement and support of women in STEM. 

“It’s not that women don’t have the drive to get into the STEM fields,” Pilch said, “but once they go into them, they don’t have someone they can work with and bring up their issues to that has had a similar life experience.”

BIO5’s WiS event continues to serve as a counterpoint to that by giving voices to strong females who are willing to share their scientific and life experiences and encouraging conversations where women and girls can learn from one another in the process.

Representing the College of Medicine – Phoenix, physician and associate professor Dr. Amelia Gallitano served as the 2020 keynote speaker. Dr. Barton was joined on the panel by Dr. Zelieann Craig, assistant professor of animal and comparative biomedical sciences; BIO5 Ambassador and neuroscience undergraduate student Lisbeth Haaheim; Dr. Laura Meredith, assistant professor of ecosystem genomics; immunobiology doctoral candidate Emily Merritt; and Dr. Patricia Stock, director and professor of animal and comparative biomedical sciences.

Sharing stories to support women in STEM
The WiS event is organized and funded by the BIO5 Institute. The Technology and Research Initiative Fund (TRIF) that helped launch BIO5 almost 20 years ago continues to be a catalyst in enabling interdisciplinary bioscience research, innovation, and community impact at UArizona and enables professional development and support events like WiS.

The previous WiS events were held in the Thomas W. Keating Bioresearch Building, home of the BIO5 Institute, but will be held in a virtual format in 2021. Although virtual, the concept of the event will be the same as it has been since the beginning: STEM students and aspiring young professionals from across the community will listen to a keynote address and panel discussion featuring inspirational UArizona women representing different backgrounds and STEM career paths and stages. Topics include work/life balance, mentorship, changing career paths, gender bias and mental health. 

Carbine thought it was essential to include a wide range of panelists to share their unique stories because she recognized everyone’s path to STEM is different. 

“By sharing how they got to where they are today through their triumphs and struggles, the panelists are able to inspire the next generation of women in STEM and show them that there is no right way to get involved in STEM,” Carbine said.

Following graduation with degrees from the UArizona College of Medicine and the College of Science in 2019, event founder Carbine accepted a teaching position with the Brilla Public Charter Schools in Bronx, New York. Some of her fourth-grade girls are interested in pursuing careers in medicine, engineering, nursing and computer science. 

Carbine serves as an inspirational female role model for her students, providing them with resources and encouragement to follow their dreams. 

“I make it so clear that they can achieve it, despite anyone or anything telling them differently,” Carbine said. 

Community-wide impact
For Amy Randall-Barber, Manager of Marketing and Events at BIO5, the WiS event strives to motivate women and provide them with professional resources. The event supports the mission of BIO5 by providing an educational outreach opportunity to not only STEM students and faculty, but to the greater Tucson community, as well.  

Nearly fifty people attended the first WiS event, including UArizona students, faculty, staff and Tucson community members. The organizers expanded the event to high school students the following year, nearly doubling their impact. 

In addition to gathering the community, the event supports women pursuing STEM careers through networking opportunities. While recruiting world-renowned speakers for the event would draw a large crowd, it was important to Carbine to choose panelists representing the BIO5 Institute so attendees could create connections that were close to home. 

Adapting to continue to inspire the next generation
The virtual 2021 Women in STEM event is scheduled for February 2, 2021. Please visit the Discover BIO5 website for more information.