Building a Bridge to Success for Female Scientists

Building a Bridge to Success for Female Scientists

Student success and engagement are at the heart of the University of San Diego experience. From day one, students are encouraged to explore their passions, learn through practice, and experience changemaking in action.

One such program that enables this is Bridges to Doctoral Institutions, a partnership between the Luce Foundation and USD’s Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. This program, which aims to promote women in science, enables undergraduate female students to pursue summer research opportunities in doctoral settings.

“This program supports our female majors in their transition from an undergraduate [research] setting to a PhD setting,” says Joan Lorraine Schellinger, PhD, the program’s advisor and assistant professor of chemistry and biochemistry. “This is for our students considering or interested in an advanced degree in the sciences.”

Started in 2008, the program has continued to grow and impact those involved. The goal is to provide students with the opportunity to experience different lab settings and receive mentorship from researchers at partner universities.

“In chemistry and biochemistry, there’s about a 50-50 male to female ratio of those who graduate with bachelor’s degrees, but, as soon as you get to PhD programs, the male to female ratio becomes three to one,” says Schellinger. “That’s why this is important in terms of creating an infrastructure of support for our students to be successful and increase their retention in these programs.”

For Estefania Martinez Valdivia ‘19, a senior pursuing a degree in biochemistry, the opportunity to conduct research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology further cemented her career path.

“I was able to use the techniques I had gathered at USD and bring them there,” she says. “I was happy to realize the work I’ve done at USD, not only the research but the classes, really prepared me.”

Seeing successful women in research positions has further convinced Martinez Valdivia of her future. “It’s great to see the possibilities and to see where you can get to.”

Currently applying to graduate schools, she’s confident in her plans. “I think this gives me a leg up in knowing what I want to do and being sure that this is the path I want to follow,” she says.

Truly a partnership among the many entities involved, Schellinger credits the program’s success to those who have made it possible.

“It’s important to recognize everyone’s contribution. The hard work of our faculty members, for example, Tammy Dwyer, Debbie Tahmassebi, [and] Lauren Benz, and our entire department, in working together to identify student recipients of this award as well as [finding] mentors and laboratories outside of USD where our students can do their summer research.”

However, for Schellinger, the highlight is working with the students involved in the program who become “invigorated and inspired” to pursue careers in the field.

— Allyson Meyer ‘16

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