By Ryan Clark
CHS Communications Director
Let’s meet our panel.
One is a non-traditional student, a young mother who utilized community college as a way to restart her dream of working in medicine. Another is the daughter of a medical doctor — she was inspired to follow in those footsteps as a young girl, and now she’s making it reality. Yet another is a home-schooled scholar who feels comforted by the rules of science. And finally, we have a student who is a third-generation science major.
They are four friends, and each were interested in science from an early age. Now, they find themselves studying together in the College of Health Sciences’ Medical Laboratory Science program. Today, as we celebrate International Day of Women and Girls in Science, we discuss with these four women how they followed their passions into science — and why it’s important to keep encouraging other young women to do the same.
Meet Caci Hisle, Ivory Simon-Okube, Ally Blomgren and Hannah Walker.
“Growing up, everyone would meet my brother, and they would say, ‘Oh he's going to be an engineer someday because he just has that personality.’ He was really intelligent and they would make those assumptions, but those comments would never be made to myself and my sisters, even though we were equal academically,” Hannah Walker said. “That's a small thing, but that rubs off on children. I think society as a whole needs to be more informed about how successful women can be in these careers and how important it is to not make assumptions.”
According to the United Nations, less than 30 percent of scientific researchers in the world are women. And a recent survey by Microsoft discovered that young women can become disinterested in science by the age of 15.
It must change, says Caci Hisle. And maybe to an extent, it is. These young women say that of the 24 students in their MLS program, 23 are female.
“Our class is definitely an excellent representation of sisterhood,” Hisle said. “Now that we have a Vice President that little girls of all races can look up to, and women who are winning Nobel Prizes, you know, other women are seeing that and getting the chills and getting that feeling of like, ‘I can do it, too, and I want to contribute.’ You know, when my daughter watches me do my schoolwork, she sits there and says, ‘Mommy, I'm a scientist.’ She wants to come to school with me. She wants to be just like me, and to me that's encouraging, and it affirms what I'm doing.”
Esther Dupont-Versteegden, PhD, director and professor of the Rehabilitation Sciences PhD Program and member of CHS’ Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Committee, said young women need to look for role models in the sciences.
“Curiosity is not determined by your gender,” she said. “Science is all about satisfying the curiosity you might have for answering any question that comes to mind. I would tell young girls who want to pursue a career in science to look at the women who have gone before them as role models and pick mentors who know what it is like to have a career in science. It is very rewarding to find answers to the questions you are asking out of curiosity.”
“The way I think of it is, I want to be able to help people, and I cannot help people if I don't have the knowledge,” said Ivory Simon-Okube. “So from a very young age, I already planned out in my mind, what would I want to do. And the way I think of it is, having knowledge of science gives me the power to help people the way I want to.”
“I agree,” said Ally Blomgren. “I think knowledge is power, and our universe and world runs on science. I mean, when you have knowledge like that, it's important to be able to share it and help people when you can and contribute to society.”
Each of these amazing young women have committed themselves to careers in science. Let’s hear more about them, in their own words:
I am, I guess, what you would consider a non-traditional student. I came back to school when I was 22 because I had a daughter, and I was working as a cosmetologist and I would work, you know, eight, nine hours a day and barely spend any time with her and I had nothing to show for it at the same time, so I just kind of knew it wasn't for me. I was raised by a single mother who pursued an education from the time I was a baby until I graduated high school. She has her doctorate and she is the director of the Bluegrass Community Health Center, Dr. Julie Perry. I started back at (community college) actually and I went for the radiography program and I got in but I just kind of had one of those moments with God where God was like, ‘You need to reach higher than that.’ So I decided to continue on and to try to go to Medical School so this program was what I felt best fit my interest and my strong suits I guess you can say, and so, hopefully, after the MLS program I’ll get accepted to UK Med school and be a pathologist.
I also want to go on to Med school eventually, and for me, I guess I've always had this passion to help people that can't help themselves, people who are kind of rejected because they don't have any insurance or they don't have money. I was talking to my mom and we were trying to see (a major) that was different from your standard biology or chemistry. In high school my senior year we had some people come from the MLS Program to speak to us about the program itself and what it entails and it just sounded so amazing to me. And so I hope to finish from MLS and work a little bit and then go on to Medical School later and combine those two. And just to add on to how important is to start off on that young age, I remember watching my mom as a kid. I’m from Nigeria, and my mom is a doctor — she doesn't practice here — but she's a doctor and just watching her back home, just with her books and just talking about her patients and how passionate she was. It was inspiring. Your gender and your race does not matter. You can make a change, regardless of all of that, and that should not be something that holds you back. Young girls, they can do whatever they want to. The sky’s the limit.
I am originally from Michigan and I kind of stumbled upon this major because my mom and my grandma were actually both MLS majors and they both went on to become very successful women. My grandma was a lab manager for a long time and my mom had me and then she went to Med tech school and then she eventually went on to be a PA after a couple of years — and she had three kids. It’s funny — I definitely tried to avoid being a clone of my mom and my grandma but I definitely ended up choosing this path, because it suited me. It's the stuff that I want to do so, I tried to avoid it, but I really do like MLS. I think I’m going to work as a Med tech for a while, but I really do like the idea of being a PA because I do miss patient contact. I definitely think that one day I will go to PA school I just don't know when. I think that is important to have people like us, women that are doctors and women in healthcare in general, just because a lot of people don't have that sense of inspiration. It was really nice growing up to have that, because some people don't know that they can do it, regardless of the fact that they’re women, regardless of their color, regardless of their status, economically. So a lot of people just didn't have that, so I think it's important that there are people out there to inspire you.
I guess my love of science would also be from my mom. She is a pharmacist and has been for her entire career. My siblings and I were all homeschooled and she really was the one who first kind of put that real love of science into all of us and actually, myself and my two sisters, all three of us girls in the family have pursued science majors and science fields, so my mom definitely promoted that with us. She didn't force it on us, but definitely encouraged it since that was what we were interested in. I did some research for (a UK) faculty member and that led me to MLS. Every single thing that I do in the lab is connected to a patient. I always know that everything that I'm doing has to be accurate and it has to be precise, because it matters to the patient and to the care that they're ultimately going to receive. So MLS has been a perfect way for me to really blend my love of science and of working in a laboratory to also having the same importance and the knowledge that my work is really vital to making a contribution to other people. I love science because it is real and there's enough things in the world that are confusing and uncertain. You can put your faith in it, you can put money on it. And it gives you just a really good sense of assurance. It helps me make sense of the world around me to be involved in science and to be in a science career.
Watch the entire panel discussion here: