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The Saban Research Institute Organizes Forum on Women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) Careers

CONTACT FOR MEDIA: Ellin Kavanagh, (323) 361-8505

Cheryl Saban, PhD, Brent Polk, MD, Michele Kipke, PhD, and Heather Volk, PhD, MPH, speakers at the recent Women in STEM event.

LOS ANGELES (May 10, 2013) The Saban Research Institute of Children’s Hospital Los Angeles recently held the event “Women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM): Designing, Developing and Delivering Change.”The program was organized as a special celebration in honor of Cheryl Saban, PhD, Haim Saban, and the Saban Family Foundation, for a decade of support to further the improvement of children’s health through research.

The event was crowded with women and girls of all ages—plus quite a few men—who arrived expecting to learn how seven women have succeeded in STEM careers. They left not only with that knowledge, but also with the inspiration and motivation to help close the gender gap in STEM.  Cheryl Saban, PhD, summed it up best, “It isn’t easy to be successful in these fields, but what’s easy?  Anything that’s really worth doing requires effort.”

Brent Polk, MD, director of The Saban Research Institute, opened the proceedings,“STEM is key to our future health as a society—our physical, environmental and economic health—we cannot afford to miss out on half the population to help us maintain our leadership position at the international forefront of discoveries and development of new ideas.”Michele Kipke, PhD, vice chair of Research at Children’s Hospital, then shared her own path in a STEM career prior to introducing the speakers.
From Girls Inc., a nonprofit dedicated to helping girls overcome social and gender barriers, president and CEO Judy Vredenburgh, MBA, cited the unconscious biases that exist in children as early as fourth grade:  When asked to draw a scientist, by overwhelming majority both boys and girls drew men. All of the speakers had unique experiences with overcoming this bias. Roberta Diaz Brinton, PhD, a professor at the School of Pharmacy at the University of Southern California (USC), shared how the struggles she faced as a child helped to prepare her for her career and how her lack of STEM educational opportunities as a child motivated her to develop the USC STAR program for K-12 educators and students. Tyran Richards, from EnCorps, a non-profit program for developing second-career STEM teachers, illustrated how her transition from being a pharmaceutical chemist to an eighth grade science teacher taught her the importance of following her passions and valuing her own uniqueness.

Girls Inc. alumna Bianca Bailey explained that on her journey to becoming a chemical engineer she has relied on her “me cabinet,” a collection of friends and mentors, to bolster her confidence. Heather Volk, PhD, MPH, who conducts research on autism and pollution at The Saban Research Institute, discussed the importance of collaboration in building a network for success. Ellen Jorgensen, PhD, co-founder and president of Genspace, a citizen-science nonprofit that provides the public access to biotechnology said that women and girls should not be timid about pursuing their passions. Maja Matarić, PhD, professor and vice dean of Research in the Viterbi School of Engineering of USC, noted the importance of being an authentic mentor. She suggested that it wasn’t necessary to formally ask someone to be your mentor but instead just ask to spend time in the lab of a scientist you admire.Additionally, Matarić shared that women often feel like “imposters.” Her advice to combat the feeling was, “fake it ‘till you make it,”reminding the audience that as long as you work hard, the confidence will follow.

Audience participation was encouraged during a panel moderated by Cheryl Saban, PhD. Questions from both Saban and the audience brought forth valuable advice on confidence, perfectionism, and mentoring others. Additionally, the importance of family was emphasized and the mothers on the panel agreed that succeeding in a STEM career and raising children were not mutually exclusive. Women were not encouraged to change in order to fit into a male-dominated field; rather, they were encouraged to change the field to fit them.

Julia Pearson, an 11 year old from Lincoln Elementary School in La Crescenta, attended with her father who works at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. She was impressed that the panelists told attendees that they shouldn’t fear failure and that failing is an opportunity to learn. “ I also think it would be cool to help people and make new discoveries that could change the world.”

About Children’s Hospital Los Angeles

Children's Hospital Los Angeles has been named the best children’s hospital in California and among the top five in the nation for clinical excellence with its selection to the prestigious U.S. News & World Report Honor Roll. Children’s Hospital is home to The Saban Research Institute, one of the largest and most productive pediatric research facilities in the United States. Children’s Hospital is also one of America's premier teaching hospitals through its affiliation since 1932 with the Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California.

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