Chiamaka Ukachukwu, Second Year, M.S., Molecular, Cellular, & Developmental Biology
I am a Nigerian-American born and raised in Somerset, NJ. I received my B.S. in biochemistry and French minor from the Georgia Institute of Technology. I currently work in the Chapman lab and I am studying how biofilm formation in E. coli confers antibiotic resistance. I plan to pursue a Ph.D. in the biomedical sciences and conduct research to benefit society.
Until college, I did not realize that a black woman with a doctoral degree was uncommon because I was raised by one. My mother, a college professor, earned her Ph.D. in organic chemistry from Georgia Tech, and was my source of inspiration. I watched her tirelessly dedicate herself to her students and use her resources to help our community back home in Nigeria.
I developed a passion for serving underrepresented groups in STEM because of my own challenges at Georgia Tech. As I advanced towards my degree, the number of women and minorities in my classes often dwindled until I alone represented both groups. I found it difficult to connect with classmates and professors which negatively impacted my grades. Even so, I never questioned my ability to succeed because my mother had already done so.
I am thrilled to serve as the FEMMES co-president because FEMMES is the perfect platform to encourage young girls by bringing women in STEM from diverse backgrounds together in a supportive community. Furthermore, I am elated to represent a black woman excelling in the sciences; my goal is for girls to see women like us and feel they too can excel in STEM fields.
Fun Facts: I ran track in college, I love to play soccer, perform spoken word and West-African style dance, and I am an avid Naruto fan. I spent six weeks in Paris, France during a study abroad and I am absolutely committed to becoming fluent in French!
Taylor Larsen, Junior, Materials Science and Engineering
Becoming an engineer is something that I have always wanted to do, ever since I visited my dad at his mechanical engineering job. It wasn’t my dad though that sparked my interest, it was the woman environmental engineer. I later worked for her as a summer student, and she took me out of the office to show me that an engineer doesn’t just sit at a computer for 8 hours a day. An engineer can do anything as far as design the Mackinaw Bridge to working at General Mills.
Continuing through my college career there were multiple times that I wanted to quit and change my major. I actually went to a meeting to talk about my options outside of engineering. But why give up on your goals just because there’s a few rough patches? The best part about FEMMES is the inspiration that I get not just from the volunteers, but from the participants too. They truly love science and they won’t quit until they achieve their goal. I became a member of the FEMMES E-board because I want to help spark these girls interest in science, and provide support that inspires them to always follow their dreams.
Daria Stelmak, Sophomore, Neuroscience
As a young girl in middle school and elementary school, I actually hated science. Unfortunately, I didn’t have many role models or opportunities like the ones provided by FEMMES to spark an interest in my younger self. It was in high school when I learned under some of the most passionate teachers in my biology and chemistry classes that I discovered how intriguing and fun science really is. Since then my love of science, especially biology, has grown and inspired me to pursue a STEM track. I think FEMMES is an amazing organization because it exposes girls to science and math in a way that interests them. I’m very excited to be a part of FEMMES and can’t wait to see what we have in store this year!
Sierrah Grigsby, Fourth Year, PhD Candidate, Molecular and Cellular Pathology
I am from a small city in Southeast Texas. I have been interested in the sciences since I was very little. Both of my parents were biology teachers when they started their career. I attended Central Medical Magnet High School in Beaumont, Texas where I was trained in basic medical practices like taking vitals and transcribing medical notes. Halfway through my high school career, I transferred to the Texas Academy of Leadership in the Humanities where I enrolled in Lamar University for two years and obtained two years of college credit. I had my first research experience at 17 years of age when I participated in the High School Summer Research Program in Galveston, Tx. After graduation in 2010, I attended the University of Rochester where I finished my undergraduate degree in Microbiology in 2013. During undergrad I worked in several research labs as a lab assistant. All of my experiences led me to pursuing my PhD here at U of M. However, I never had many female role models along the way. Fortunately, now I am able to work under a great woman in science, but throughout most of my training I only worked under men Principal Investigators. I think FEMMES is a wonderful opportunity to show these young girls that not all scientists are old men, but people like them are also capable of achieving greatness in this field.
Lauren Kelsey, Sophomore, Neuroscience
As a woman interested in science, I had my trepidations about entering the field when I first came to Michigan. Like many of my fellow E-board members, I never really had any female role models to inspire and guide me through my childhood and, coming from a small Chicago high school, I didn’t really know what to expect as I found myself interested in pursuing science and research – all I really knew was that it was dominated by men. Regardless, I was determined to put myself out there and in my first year, I found a lab focused on craniofacial development through UROP; it was there that I met my first female PhD researcher (and inspiration), Sudha, who inspired me to continue with research. This summer, I received the Katz Scholarship to do research for the Chief of Plastic surgery at the Children’s Hospital of Chicago where I worked on zebrafish models to investigate craniosynostosis. As fate would have it, my PI and post-doc colleague were both women! I was so ecstatic to spend the summer working with them, and I am so happy to have met such wonderful women in the field of science – this has definitely strengthened my passion to promote FEMMES and it will be an absolute pleasure to serve on the E-Board this year.
Tali Khain, Sophomore, Math and Physics
Having been raised in a family of scientists, I’ve always been encouraged to pursue a STEM field and explore the world around me. After moving to Ann Arbor from Israel halfway through elementary school, I took advantage of the many wonderful WISE camps and programs offered by the University of Michigan. Now, I am happily pursuing a physics and math double major. I love working with kids and I am extremely excited to share my passion for STEM with young girls by serving on the FEMMES E-Board this year!
Sarah Paleg, Second Year, Chemical Engineering
I feel so thankful that I was a carefree and completely oblivious child, and that I didn’t notice that there were almost no other girls in my advanced math, science, and computer science courses. By the time I came to that realization, I was old enough to feel indignant, and to be motivated to succeed in science in spite of my gender. For those girls who are more perceptive of their surroundings – who are at risk to internalize incorrect assumptions about the natural aptitudes of women in science and engineering – I work with FEMMES to counteract those assumptions, and to provide positive role models of successful female scientists and engineers. In my free time, I am a second-year doctoral student in chemical engineering, where I research reactions that are important in the upgrading of biofuels. After graduate school, I hope to continue to research sustainable energy technologies and to be active in the science policy sphere.
Oleta Johnson, 4th year Ph.D. candidate, Chemical Biology
I am super excited to be involved with an organization as awesome as FEMMES!!! Growing up as an African American girl in South Carolina, I was often discouraged by science and math teachers who believed I was simply incapable of excelling in a STEM field. It wasn’t until my 11th grade chemistry teacher, Dr. Price, that I was really encouraged to take interest in science. Her passion and enthusiasm literally changed the direction of my life and my overall life goal is to be able to do that for others. FEMMES allows make the perfect venue to encourage young girls that science (and anything really) is totally obtainable. I am currently beginning my thesis work, studying protein-protein interactions involved in cap-dependent protein translation. In the future, I’d like to go into academia, where I can continue to inspire students (especially young women) to fearlessly pursue their goals.
Amy Bondy, 5th year Ph.D. candidate, Environmental Chemistry
Since my pursuit of chemistry began in college, I have taken every opportunity to teach others about science as well. In particular, I love working with young girls to make a lasting impression that science is VERY COOL and experiments are FUN! I am currently working on my thesis in environmental chemistry, studying atmospheric particles and the effect they have on climate. I am very excited to be working with FEMMES this year to help share my love of science with the girls.
Capstone Activity Coordinators
Mariah Gnegy, Senior, Civil & Environmental Engineering
For a person who grew up in a family of engineers, I was never terribly interested in going into a science-related field. Even in high school, I struggled through computer science classes. Despite this, I still decided to be an engineer when I came to U of M. It wasn’t until halfway through my freshman year that I realized engineering was fun and I loved every second of it. I joined FEMMES shortly after as a Capstone volunteer so that I could give younger girls the opportunity to discover that science and technology are not only interesting and useful, but also fun! I have continued my passion for engineering and science through my involvement on the Steel Bridge Team. I also do research on a project involving resource recovery in wastewater here at U of M. I am excited to be a part of the FEMMES E-board this year to share my love of STEM!
Sudarat Lee, 4th year Ph.D. Candidate, Inorganic Chemistry
Coming from cultural background where women are often underrepresented in STEM, I experienced my first interaction with successful female scientists when I joined Women in Science Program at my undergraduate institution. Now as a graduate student, I hope to spark curiosity and excitements in young ladies’ eyes through FEMMES, and inspire them to be more involved in STEM. I love to empower women and see confidence in science grow in the younger generation of women scientists and engineers!
Jennifer Lachowiec, Post-doctoral Fellow, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
I realized early on during my undergrad career that women were under-represented in many scientific fields. Since then (11 years!), I have been involved in science outreach for girls in urban and rural areas, which lack role models in science, especially females and underrepresented minorities. One of my goals in my outreach efforts is to empower girls and give them the confidence and resources to explore whatever they love, deeply and without fear.
Shwetha Rajaram, Sophomore, Computer Science Engineering
Having grown up in Ann Arbor, I have been so fortunate to attend a myriad of STEM outreach events hosted by the University of Michigan. I am so grateful for these experiences, as were it not for these learning opportunities, I probably would not have entered a STEM field. I’m so excited to be a part of the FEMMES E-Board, as it allows me to give young girls the same opportunities to explore science and math as I was given. In addition to FEMMES, I’m involved in outreach through the Washtenaw Elementary Science Olympiad, the Society of Engineers, and Tech Day.
Megan Connolly, Graduate Student, Chemical Biology
Gretchen Zimmerman, Junior, Microbiology
FEMMES was one of the first groups that I got involved with at U of M and I am so excited to continue to be part of such an awesome organization. As a volunteer coordinator, I hope to get even more students involved with FEMMES. When I was in elementary school, I participated in science events at the college in my hometown and seeing students passion for science really sparked my interest in STEM fields. I hope to be able to provide girls with that same opportunity through our Capstone events. I love that FEMMES is dedicated specifically to showing girls that science can be fun and encouraging them to pursue their interests (science or not)! After graduating, I hope to attend medical school and then pursue a career in women’s healthcare.
Natalie Arvin, 3rd Year Ph.D. Candidate, Analytical Chemistry
Growing up I always enjoyed math throughout school and it was in high school when I discovered my love for Chemistry. I wish I had been exposed to Chemistry and the sciences more at an earlier age which is why I love the mission of FEMMES. I am excited for the opportunity to help this organization continue its great work! I research the development of analytical techniques for improved separation and analysis of biological samples specifically for developing microchip Western blotting.
Mandy Nilsen, Senior, Neuroscience
As a child, I loved science and was fascinated by the world around me. I spent many afternoons in the kitchen tinkering with my “edible chemistry” kit. Growing up, I was fortunate to have teachers who encouraged my interests and pushed me to excel in advanced science and math classes. In 6th grade, I attended a science career day for girls at my local university. It was there that I realized science could be more than just a hobby. My interests have changed over time, but my desire to inspire young girls to pursue their STEM passions has remained. I currently assist with biopsych research, studying the role of the central amygdala in addiction. In the future, I plan to pursue a graduate degree in genetic counseling or public health. Besides sharing my love of science, my passions also include music, petting cute fluffy dogs, and drinking A LOT of coffee.
Sofiya Hlynchuk, Ph.D Candidate, Chemistry
After-School Activities Coordinators
Rachel Kuo, Senior, Informatics
In middle school, I attended events hosted by organizations similar to FEMMES that promote interest in STEM among young girls. We got to perform photolithography in a clean room, and I watched how the volunteers made ice cream using liquid nitrogen! Then, in my sophomore year of high school, I joined my school’s Women in Science club and got to experience STEM promotion from the volunteer’s point of view. I love watching kids get involved in hands-on demonstrations, ask questions, and make observations! My experiences have encouraged me to pursue a career in pharmacy, where I can contribute to patient care and health, as well as a major in computer science. I hope to encourage other children to participate in STEM through FEMMES, which fosters a more welcoming science environment for kids – particularly girls, who are underrepresented in STEM – so that they are more confident when they approach any scientific field.
Lindsey Tartaglia, Senior, Statistics/Spanish
Attending an all-girl high school, I was exposed to the type of environment where women were in leadership roles, women were studying advanced sciences and mathematics, and women were the inspiration behind the success of learning. I am all about empowering young women and encouraging them to reach their full potential in whatever they pursue in life, which is the reason I joined FEMMES. I have attended Capstone Events and several After School Activities at the local Elementary schools, and I find that teaching these young girls math and science is very rewarding, for both the volunteers and the students. These events give the girls the opportunity to explore and be curious about subjects that may not have been accessible to them before. I enjoy mentoring the students to pursue studies in STEM fields because that is where women are lacking. I am excited for the upcoming year and to continue improving and promoting such a positive and influential organization such as FEMMES. After my undergraduate studies, I hope to either pursue a career in statistics analysis or continue my studies in a Master’s Program.
Allison O’Hara, Senior, Biomedical Engineering
Growing up in a family of STEM professionals, I was lucky to be encouraged to pursue a career in any of these fields. However, many young girls do not experience a similarly supportive environment at home or in the classroom. FEMMES is a strong, accessible community of women in STEM that benefits both its members and the young students it mentors. I am proud to be a member of this powerful organization, and hope to continue its mission in both my academic and professional life as a biomedical engineering student at the University of Michigan.
Brenna Budaitis, Undergraduate Student, Chemistry
Growing up, my parents always encouraged me to pursue whatever field I felt most passionate about. Although my career-goals have changed since kindergarten, when I really wanted to be an ice-cream lady, I was very fortunate to have grown up in a diverse environment in the Chicago suburbs with supportive teachers and friends: I never once felt discouraged to pursue a certain field. Although the sciences had always intrigued me, pursuing science as a career never truly captured my curiosity until half-way through high-school when I saw my older sister’s involvement in research in her undergraduate-career. Her level of passion and independence inspired me to engage in the STEM fields to find my own area of interest. After my first 2 years at the University of Michigan, I now recognize that many girls aren’t given positive opportunities to explore the STEM fields or unfortunately don’t have positive role-models. I am very excited to be part of FEMMES as an After School Activities Coordinator this year to help promote young women to explore their curiosities and truly engage in the excitement of the STEM fields!
Nicole Michmerhuizen, PhD Student, Pharmacology
I’ve been fortunate to have amazing mentors in STEM fields throughout my life. These mentors have included teachers, professors, advisors, and other individuals who took an interest in me. They encouraged me to pursue my passions, regardless of outside factors including gender. As a result of the opportunities I’ve had due to these mentors, I feel compelled to encourage others to similarly develop their interests in math, science, and engineering. Volunteering at FEMMES capstones was the first avenue I had to do this, and throughout the past year I was able to organize volunteer events in the greater Ann Arbor area. I’m excited to continue to serve as community outreach coordinator and be involved in planning events that will allow aspiring scientists to engage their curious minds and develop a better understanding of the world and our place in it.
Social Media & Publicity Coordinator
Anat Belasen, fourth year PhD candidate, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
From a young age, my immigrant father encouraged me to work hard in math and science, because he said it was especially important that women become more represented in these fields. He had come to the US to pursue his dream of getting a PhD, and measured success in academic and intellectual achievement. I didn’t really understand it at the time, but my dad was a complete “STEMinist,” and his encouragement has carried me through to pursuing a PhD in the Biological Sciences. My path wasn’t linear, and it was certainly influenced along the way by many obstacles that I faced, including prejudice for being a female and thinking outside of the box.
Aside from stereotype bias and other social issues that negatively impact females in STEM, I think there is a false dichotomy that divides scientific and artistic thinking. In my opinion, the two are so deeply connected, and this separation of art from science not only limits scientific advancement and discovery, but it leads to the discouragement of those that connect through artistic expression from believing in and investing in their math and science abilities. I try to find ways to promote STEAM (STEM + the Arts) to challenge the right brain/left brain ideology, which continues to be upheld today. Through working with FEMMES, I hope to increase awareness of our educational programs and reach out to Michigan school communities that are in need of the support and resources that we have to offer.
Marian Schmidt, PhD Candidate, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
I wish I had discovered my passion for science before college. I believe that FEMMES participants will have the chance to discover their love for science at an earlier age due to the exposure to fun, hand-on scientific activities that we host. I became involved in FEMMES through participating as a Capstone volunteer, which reminded me of the the undeniable and wild excitement that children have while learning. Witnessing the girls having “ah-ha!”, “wow!”, and “that’s so cool!” moments helped to remind me of how cool my job as a researcher is! It is easy to get caught up in day-to-day research and forget that I still have the pleasure of having these “ah-ha!” moments. Sharing my love for science, specifically regarding bacteria that live in Michigan lakes, with the FEMMES participants and their reaction to learning that bacteria live in lakes and other ecosystems, helps rejuvenate my passion for science while sharing it with young girls! There is nothing like sharing your passion and excitement for science with a 9 year old – the benefit goes both ways!
As the FEMMES data manager, I am excited to discover the impact that our capstone event is having on our FEMMES participants by organizing and analyzing the pre- and post-capstone survey data. I look forward to see what these surveys can tell us about our big, semesterly event and the influence it has on our participants!
Mariah Gnegy, Senior, Civil & Environmental Engineering
Natalie Arvin, 3rd Year Ph.D. Candidate, Analytical Chemistry
Jenna Jin, Senior, Math
Growing up, I always enjoyed everything STEM (especially math) and was fortunate to be in an environment where I was encouraged to do what I like. What I’ve realized through my years in university is that everything is really interconnected and it’s such a rewarding feeling to have an understanding of why the things we see everyday are the way they are and to find ties between different subject areas. After volunteering at my first FEMMES event I felt inspired by these young girls’ curiosity and desire to learn about things in the STEM field and I hope to help them grow their passion for understanding and encourage them to continue doing what they love.
Shwetha Rajaram, Sophomore, Computer Science Engineering