Celebrating Graduate Women of Excellence

The presenter smiles while speaking to her audience.

Biennially, the Office of Graduate Education honors a cohort of Graduate Women of Excellence at the Celebration of Graduate Women.

April 30, 2019

Honorees are nominated and selected in a process based on their leadership and service contributions at the Institute, their dedication to mentoring, and their drive to make changes to improve the student experience.

In a celebration held on April 29, 2019 at the Samberg Center, honorees shared information about their path to MIT, their work and involvement in the MIT community, and their vision for the future through an informal poster presentation with a group that included nominators, department heads and other faculty, staff, students, friends, and family.

The evening’s program was uplifting, as Senior Associate Dean Blanche Staton welcomed the assembly and turned the floor to keynote speaker Danielle Wood, Assistant Professor of Media Arts and Sciences and former Graduate Woman of Excellence. Prof. Wood’s inspirational words spoke to the bumps in the road to her current position, and the importance of seeking help to overcome inevitable challenges and of maintaining a deep authenticity. She invited those gathered to share their joy “in being who I am” through a participatory “call and response” chant.

Many of the honorees generously provided a window not only into their backgrounds, but into challenges they had overcome and important aspects of their lives.

“Growing up,” one woman recalled, “I moved, a lot. Like, every three to six months. We would move without any notice. I would lose friends and have to start over and over again. Somehow, though, perpetual change allowed me to feel like loss was something I could overcome. It showed me that the disruption of change was temporary. It also showed me the only way to make friends again was to try. It armed me with the ability to calm chaos and feel comfort in ambiguity.”

Valuable guidance and inspiration were imparted to the attendees through the posters and in person. “Many of the issues we face are institutional, and deeply rooted; it’s easy to get discouraged,” one honoree observed. “While the larger problem may seem insurmountable, remember that you do have an impact on those around you. Encourage others to do the same, foster a community, and you’ll be amazed at what you can accomplish.”

Another honoree urged her fellow students, “Make sure you make time for yourself… It takes a lot of commitment to make time for yourself, but it’s so important.”

“No one can do it alone,” maintained another, “Build and maintain friendships — now and for the rest of your life.”

A third woman advised, “Don’t compete with your peers, collaborate with them. My father often says, ‘the only way to move up in life is to teach others what you know.’ People waste a lot of energy protecting their turf, which they could spend developing their ideas.”

Looking forward, the 2019 honorees unfolded various plans for the road ahead, envisioning paths that included public service, academia, and industry.

“I have learned a lot about how teaching and mentoring can impact young scientists,” said one, “particularly those who are not well represented in STEM. I hope that as a teacher I can work to reduce barriers to STEM education and serve as a role model to female scientists.”

Another shared: “I envision a world whose culture is built on compassion and understanding, where science is done out of curiosity and a desire to improve the condition of all living creatures… I hope to use my knowledge and position to contribute what I can, and convince others to do the same.”

The Graduate Women of Excellence celebration is organized by the Office of Graduate Education and made possible by the work of three Graduate Community Fellows.

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