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For Women’s History Month, Women in STEM Share Their Journeys

The path for women in STEM fields has historically been fraught with obstacles that their male counterparts may not have had to face. The path is a bit clearer today thanks to the women who walked it before: women like Rachel Carson, the marine biologist and environmentalist; Katherine Johnson, the space scientist who made the Apollo 11 flight possible; and Edith Clarke, the first professionally employed female electrical engineer in the U.S.

On Wednesday, March 31, 2021, in celebration of Women’s History Month, a panel of women from the Swanson School of Engineering will discuss their own paths to success as women in STEM and higher education. The six faculty and staff members will discuss their journeys and lessons learned while building their fruitful careers.

The panel, “My Journey, My Story: The Path to Success for Women in STEM and Higher Education,” is presented by the Swanson School of Engineering Office of Diversity.

The discussion is open to all members of the Swanson School. You can find more information and RSVP here.


Xinyan Tracy Cui, Professor of Bioengineering 

Tracy Cui runs NTE Lab, where they investigate and develop tools that interface with the nervous system for neuroscience research or clinical diagnosis and therapies. One major thrust of the lab research is to understand and modulate neural tissue interactions with smart materials and biosensors—an effort that can be applied to several fields of research, including neural electrode/tissue interface, neural tissue engineering, implantable biosensors and drug delivery.

The NTE Lab also designs advanced functional biomaterials and electrode devices that will intimately integrate with the host neural tissue. They simultaneously develop rigorous methods to comprehensively and accurately evaluate these novel materials and devices.

Related news: $2.37M NIH Award to Deliver Improved Neural Recording Technology

Katherinetarget="_blank" Hornbostel, Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science

On the way to renewable energy, there will still be a need for traditional power plants, like natural gas and coal, to keep the electrical grid stable during the transition. Katherine Hornbostel’s research focuses primarily on making those traditional energy sources cleaner through carbon capture technology.

Her research group investigates materials for post-combustion carbon capture and direct air capture. Another project funded by the U.S. Department of Energy’s ARPA-E program will model a novel plant that can capture more carbon dioxide from the air than it produces, making it carbon-negative.

Related news: New Research Led by Pitt Analyzes Modeling Techniques for Carbon Capture Technology

Gena Kovalcik, Co-Director of the Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation

The Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation (MCSI) focuses on sustainability initiatives and practices through the development and integration of curriculum, groundbreaking research, community outreach and innovation. Gena Kovalcik has led MCSI since 2003, when she joined as Codirector of Administration and External Relations. Kovalcik was also recently selected as Strategic Advisor to the Dean of the Swanson School of Engineering. In this new position, Gena will play an important role in helping to formalize and lead development of the Swanson School’s strategic processes and operationalizing its strategy across all units.

In addition to her work at Pitt, Kovalcik serves as a member of the Allegheny County Green Action Team, which provides high-level, strategic input to Allegheny County officials to better support regional sustainability. She is also on the Board of Directors of the Pittsburgh Green Innovators.

Related news: https://www.engineering.pitt.edu/MCSI/News/

Carla Ng, Assistant Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering

There are tens of thousands of industrial chemicals currently in commerce—the majority of which were not carefully evaluated to understand their toxicity, bioaccumulation potential, or persistence. As researchers continue to discover environmental contaminants, Carla Ng’s lab works to effectively screen these potentially dangerous substances.

Ng’s group works at the intersection of biology and chemistry to understand and predict the fate of chemicals in the environment. They build and validate models for legacy and emerging chemicals at multiple scales, from molecules to organisms to global systems.

Recent news: Mapping PFAS Contamination in Packaged Food

Cheryl Paul, Director of Engineering Student Services and Graduate Student Ombudsperson

In her dual role assisting undergraduates and as the school’s graduate Ombudsperson, Cheryl Paul provides support to engineering students as they navigate academic and life challenges. Additionally, Paul extensively consults with staff, faculty, and parents in situations where extra assistance is required.

As a member of Pitt’s Campus Crisis Support Team, the Care & Resource Support group, & the LGBTQI+ Task Force, she is invested in leading the effort to improve student’s educational experiences with care & compassion. Paul’s work has been widely recognized by her peers. In 2013, she received the Chancellor’s Award for Staff Excellence for her work assisting student organizations.To honor this work, Pitt’s Fraternity and Sorority Life recently named the Cheryl Paul Professional Academic Mentor of the Year Award after her.

Anne Robertson, William Kepler Whiteford Endowed Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science

Anne Robertson joined the University of Pittsburgh in 1995, where she was the first female faculty member in Mechanical Engineering. Her research is focused on understanding the relationship between biological structure and mechanical function of soft tissues with a particular focus on vascular tissues. She directs a multi-institution program on cerebral aneurysms that is supported by the NIH and served a four-year term as a standing member of the Neuroscience and Ophthalmic Imaging Technologies (NOIT) Study Section of the NIH.

Robertson is founding Director of the Center for Faculty Excellence in the Swanson School of Engineering at Pitt, which takes the lead in developing and implementing programs to enhance the effectiveness of junior faculty in building outstanding academic careers. She was recently promoted to Associate Dean of Faculty Development so that she can expand this work to include recently promoted Associate Professors. Dr. Robertson is a strong supporter of diversity-related initiatives and in 2007, she received the Robert O. Agbede Faculty Award for Diversity in the Swanson School.

Related news: Pitt and Mayo Clinic Discover New, Immediate Phase of Blood Vessel Restructuring After Aneurysm