International Women’s Day: Recognizing our female mentors

On International Women’s Day, I couldn’t help but think back on all the influences I have had here at Duke, and how it has shaped my perspectives as a female undergraduate pursuing STEM.

This semester, exactly half of my classes are taught by outstanding female professors, two of which are in the Nicholas school. Lori Bennear co-leads Environmental Law and Policy and is exceptionally engaging when lecturing on the economics and regulatory basis of environmental policy. I have always thought economics and the social sciences inscrutable, but Bennear does an amazing job explaining the concepts.

Additionally, I am taking Biogeochemistry with Emily Bernhardt, and it is one of the most exciting classes I have come across at Duke. She is able to cross so many scientific disciplines and weave together how the geological and chemical interactions influences biological distributions.

I’ve also had a whole host of other inspiring female professors in the previous semesters at the Nicholas School, from getting to meet Cindy Van Dover, the first female pilot of the deep-sea submersible ALVIN, to learning about environmental toxicity with Heather Stapleton. All these women have given me the confidence that I can be just as outstanding in this field. Particularly as an undergraduate coming from a relatively patriarchal Asian background, their mentorship cannot be overemphasized.

Representation is important. But the Nicholas School would not be the same without the women who work hard behind the scenes as well. Since declaring my major, I’ve received countless of emails from Emily Blanchard, the undergraduate programs coordinator, and Nancy Kelly, who is well-known and loved by everyone. Katie Wood over at the Marine Lab also makes the effort to meet every undergrad that passes through. My Duke experience would not be the same without their work, which allows all the programs to run smoothly.

More can always be done to improve the representation of women in the university administrative leadership. But in all, I am glad to be here at Duke and have had the mentorship and support of strong women.

Nicholas School of the Environment staff members celebrate International Women’s Day earlier this week.