Women in Science Symposium helps build networks, confidence

In high school, Tojan Rahhal quickly noticed that there was a shortage of women in her math and science classes.

As an undergraduate at NC State and then as a graduate student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, she personally sought out women scientists to serve as mentors and build a network that would help her though her scientific endeavors.

On April 6, Rahhal and the UNC Women in Science group hoped to help more than 100 other women scientists build their similar networks at the annual Women in Science Symposium.

“Our mission is to empower women to achieve what they want and become successful,” Rahhal said. “We really hope that with this conference it will really give them a platform for networking and a platform for learning from other’s experiences. With women being a minority in the sciences, they don’t have a platform and if they do it’s not a large platform.”

Held at the Koury Oral Health Sciences Building, the four-hour conference featured poster presentations by more than 50 Carolina students and keynote speaker Barbar Hamkalo, a University of California-Irvine professor emeritus who was one of the earliest woman faculty members recruited to the university’s Department of Molecular Biology and Biochemistry.

An internationally recognized environmental scientist, Chancellor Carol L. Folt also spoke at the event discussing her career and the importance of women in the field. She urged the attendees of mostly post-doctoral and graduate students to build those support and mentoring networks.

“If you look around our University you see a lot of outstanding role models,” Folt said. “There are many women in every position from your departments to your post docs to your graduate student leaders. Leadership happens at every single level.”

With initiatives such as the Chancellor’s Science Scholars, Folt said, the University is working hard to continue to build pipelines to build more diversity in math and sciences, and create an environment of success for everybody.

“I care deeply about it, and so does everybody that works with me,” she said. “We want to find ways to foster success.”
By Brandon Bieltz, Office of Communications and Public Affairs
Published April 6, 2016