Tuesday, August 28 2012
In the fight for gender parity - for equal access, opportunity and compensation for women in the workplace – sometimes we all need a little inspiration, a little idealism. That’s what we feature today. Here are thoughts from four outstanding young women who have just graduated at the top of their classes. They tell us who they are; where they come from and what they hope for. We’ve coupled their writings with the advice of four of Chicago’s most prominent professional women.
This is a chance for one generation of career women to hear from another. If you have ever doubted the importance of women in the workplace, the fact that women are the business imperative of this century, please read on.
Helen Jack, alumna of Yale University, obtained degrees in both molecular, cellular and developmental biology and international studies. A well-rounded student in both the classroom and extracurricular activities, Jack was a leader in Amnesty International and captain of the Yale Road Running club and has received a Rhodes Scholarship to study at Oxford University in the fall.
I grew up doing service work: preparing meals for people at a local health clinic with my mom, maintaining hiking trails with my dad. In college, I sought to help the most marginalized populations, volunteering at a health facility for New Haven’s drug users and interning in a neonatal clinic in Ghana. Through these experiences with direct service, I saw that many problems originate from flawed policies or systems. I could not improve those structures, however, without an intimate understanding of the needs and constraints of the people whom they affect. I would not know how to design New Haven’s syringe exchange without talking with drug users who would frequent it or know where to put a neonatal clinic in a Ghanaian city without understanding the forms of public transportation young mothers commonly use.
Empowered to work for policy changes, I joined the human rights organization Amnesty International as a freshman in high school, and throughout college I served as the liaison between Amnesty International and New Hampshire’s members of Congress. My small actions — a single letter or lobby meeting — were part of a larger movement to transform policies.
Aware that system design must be informed by the challenges facing individuals, I spent two months interviewing staff at Ghana’s three public psychiatric hospitals, documenting their challenges. The policy briefs and academic papers I wrote as a result of this research were part of a host of factors that pushed legislators to pass a law overhauling the country’s mental health system.
My drive to connect the struggles of patients with efforts for systemic change also stems from personal challenges. The only child of divorced parents, I was my mother's source of support during her battle with cancer, holding her hand through treatments and managing affairs after her death in 2010. The year before, I was hit by a car while running and suffered major injuries. I rode a motorized wheelchair around campus and needed help to bathe and eat. Through both of these experiences, it was incremental actions, like propping a pillow a specific way, that relieved suffering. However, those gestures would not have been possible without big-picture forces I barely noticed, like policies about insurance coverage of hospice.
As a physician, I will work to improve individual lives, yet also gain an understanding of the challenges facing patients, knowledge essential to, but often lacking from policy formation. I am particularly interested in global mental health and addiction medicine. I can, perhaps, have the most impact in these areas because the need is the greatest – as drug users and the mentally ill tend to be among society’s most marginalized. I seek to understand both worlds — that of doctors and patients and that of policymakers. I am still shocked that I received a Rhodes Scholarship and will be heading to Oxford University in the fall to start a two year program in philosophy, politics and economics. I am deferring matriculation to Harvard Medical School in order to study at Oxford, and I will begin medical school in fall 2014.
With a master’s in writing from Savannah College of Art and Design in Atlanta, Osayi Endolyn graduated as Excelsus Laureate of her class. Not familiar with the term? The Latin phrase refers to the highest honor one can achieve when completing a degree program – like being honored as valedictorian of your high school class, except in graduate school. Endolyn also received her bachelor’s degree in French in her home state of California at UCLA.
Lately, I’ve been a little obsessed with this quote by Alvin Ailey. He said, "All my life I’ve been fascinated by the precipice in all of us. When you come to it, you either choose to fall or you don’t."
I like this notion of choosing or not choosing to fall. Of being accountable for accepting or ignoring the impending drop. It’s appropriate that one of this country’s most influential and heralded choreographers would be drawn to the body reaching its gravitational edge. But I don’t think Ailey was only talking about one’s physicality. I think he was also talking about how we live. I became a writer because I had reached a kind of precipice. I was either going to pursue what mattered to me or continue wondering what was possible. My visceral fear of failing was ultimately overshadowed by the dread of self-inflicted mediocrity. So, I fell.
I fell into a community of people who would challenge and support me. At SCAD’s writing program, I took advantage of every opportunity I could: a diverse range of writing and art courses that focused on craft and application, roundtable discussions with noted authors, professional conferences and hands-on internships. Whenever I was asked to participate in a workshop, lecture or publication something that was aligned with my goals I said yes. I said yes to almost everything.
By the end of my two-year tenure I had published in multiple outlets; overseen SCAD Atlanta’s student media staff winning the most awards it's ever received for editorial content; studied in Lacoste, France; been selected for a writing residency; presented at academic conferences; and was recognized by the Society of Collegiate Journalists, the Society of Professional Journalists and Columbia University’s Scholastic Press Association. And yet, I feel as though I am just beginning.
I hope to write many more in-depth magazine features, more profiles on persons of interest. I want to share collections of essays inspired by the places we create, flock to and abandon, and what that says about who we are and who we are not. The intimacy of podcast interviews has opened me up to new ways of seeing, and I’m developing a show that will ideally do that for others, too. I am also full of ideas for the stage, as well as television and film.
The topics in my stories vary from craft beer culture to living in Los Angeles, a tech entrepreneur’s success or a young man’s decision to enlist in the Marine Corps. But I’m committed that they will always be, in some way, about how we get to where we’ve ended up. Because in telling each other’s stories, in documenting our movements, we expand our sense of who really exists in this world. And when we know just who and just what is out there, I find that we can have a say in the matter — the matter of life. I’m fascinated by that.
So, I am constantly on the lookout for the next precipice. And I choose to fall.
Rhodes Scholar Stephanie Lin graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology with a degree in biology and a minor in applied international studies. A fluent speaker of both Spanish and Mandarin, Lin proves to us her skills go beyond that of applied science, as she was also Literature Editor of Rune, MIT’s literary magazine.
A week into my freshman biology class at MIT I was convinced that I would be a biologist forever, culturing my way to discovery and old age. No subject had ever felt so intuitive. I became especially infatuated with infectious diseases and spent summers researching herpes viruses and sheep retroviruses in different labs, investigating how viruses evade host defenses and even cause cancer. At MIT I studied a protein in the Toxoplasma gondii parasite that affected its ability to usurp host nutrients. It was incredible that with a tiny set of such proteins, pathogens could wipe out entire populations: I found the biology behind it as beautiful as it was terrifying.
But as I learned more about medicine, my path swerved to look at more human variables. My freshman year I began working with Health Leads, an organization that trains students to be patient advocates in medical centers. One of my first patients was Tammy, a single mother who had recently lost her job and was struggling with rent as her daughter, Delfina, struggled with asthma. Although Tammy and I reached out to every resource we knew of to find housing support, we always got the same answer: “No one has funding.” I churned with frustration: What would living in shelters do for Delfina’s asthma? We were sitting in a hospital, but the healthcare system failed to address homelessness as a very real health concern.
Years later I saw very different social determinants of health while working with La Vaquita, a rural community in central Mexico. Although villagers here had constant access to housing, health care caravans in the region would sometimes be absent for months, with causes ranging from broken roads to poor scheduling. The many people with chronic diseases such as diabetes or high blood pressure were especially impacted by this sporadic treatment. Although the conditions here were very different from those of shiny Boston hospitals, it was again obvious that effective healthcare systems needed to address both social and medical challenges.
I found that learning from and working directly with patients, confronting everything from their angry landlords or their unruly sheep, is both more harrowing and more exhilarating for me than any perfectly conducted experiment. I now hope to become an infectious disease specialist, helping to design more comprehensive public health policies. Next year I'll begin a master's program in evidence-based social intervention at Oxford, and then go on to attend the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. No matter how many discoveries we make at the lab bench, great health care needs to be intertwined with all facets of a person's life, and I'm excited to continue studying and building those connections.
A native of North Carolina, Noelle Kelly earned a bachelor’s in biomedical engineering and a certificate in markets and management studies from Duke University. Kelly has traveled to 10 countries during her four years as an undergraduate student, including a trip to Ghana with a nonprofit dedicated to ending blindness and one to London where she studied engineering and business for a summer.
My mother has been a nurse in Eastern North Carolina for over 30 years. Not only have I observed her professionally as she looks after the health of strangers, but I have also seen her care for three of my grandparents as they have suffered various ailments. Needless to say, the importance of and ability to access proper health care have played a dominant role in my life and how I view the world. It was even my mother who first encouraged me to study biomedical engineering in college. The idea struck a chord within me, and I was thrilled when I was accepted into Duke University’s Pratt School of Engineering in Fall 2008.
During my studies, I learned many things about the biomechanics of the body, tissue engineering and medical imaging processes. But I also learned that many people – both domestic and abroad – do not have access to standard, let alone cutting edge, technology that is often taken for granted by many who are more fortunate.
For example, I spent two months in Accra, Ghana volunteering with a nonprofit organization called Unite for Sight, whose mission is to end preventable blindness in the developing world, primarily through providing free cataract surgeries. Cataracts, clouding in the lens of the eye, are a fairly common condition that is typically cured with a 10 to 15 minute surgery. But for those in underprivileged countries, untreated cataracts can lead to decades of blindness. I observed hundreds of sight-restoring surgeries in Ghana and watched as the lives of so many men and women were changed forever because of a simple procedure.
Many of us have been blessed with the ability and opportunity to access quality health care. But so many more are not as fortunate. Although I may be somewhat of an idealist, it is my firm belief that everyone should and can have equal opportunity to receive quality healthcare, including medical care, nutritional needs, and education and prevention.
After graduating in May, I am inspired more than ever to use my knowledge and experience to improve quality healthcare access in the United States and around the world. While I am still unsure of exactly which avenue to take to achieve my goals, I do have some ideas: Perhaps I will open my own free healthcare clinic that grants quality care to anyone in need, regardless of his or her financial status. Or maybe I will begin a new chain of health food stores in Eastern North Carolina that provide natural and organic produce and pantry foods at a price anyone can afford. Or perhaps I will even take my efforts globally to help bring underprivileged men and women around the world the opportunity to have their health needs assessed and treated. With the help of graduate degrees in both public health and business administration, I will achieve my goal to help bring such an equal and necessary right to as many as I can.
Other inspiring young people:
Unable to shake the powerful statistic that one in three women will face domestic violence, 19-year-old Morgan Coffey founded nonprofit Stronghold Atlanta to help victims gain access to resources and escape the cycle of abuse.
Interested in solar energy since she was 10, Eden Full, now 20, couldn't have been more thrilled to receive a $100,000 grant to develop her SunSaluter, a tracking product that uses rotating panels to follow the sun and to harness its energy for other use.
Last year, Aidan Sommers developed the RoX app (a strategic take on rock, paper, scissors), which is pretty impressive for a 10-year-old. Even more impressive? He's donating a portion of the proceeds to children in Haiti.