International Day of Women and Girls in Science falls on February 11, 2024. To commemorate this day, Parallax Advanced Research highlights the experiences and insights shared by women in STEM who are part of the Parallax community.
STEM Career Role Models, Mentors, and Champions and their Impact
Dr. Mary Frame, director of Cognitive Research at specializes in multi-domain intelligence, surveillance, and research. Right before Dr. Frame began her academic career in cognitive research at Miami University, she discovered the research publications of Dr. Jennifer Trueblood focused on cognitive modeling and decision processes. The timing of Dr. Frame’s discovery was uncanny, because, at the time, Dr. Frame was feeling unsure about her chosen field of study and questioning whether it was the right direction for her to take. But Dr. Trueblood’s early achievements, specifically her publications and advancements in cognitive theory, greatly influenced and assured Dr. Frame’s career pursuit of science.
"Thanks to highly prolific cognitive psychologists like Dr. Trueblood, I felt inspired to pursue research in cognitive psychology rather than pursuing a clinical route,” said Dr. Frame. “She served as an excellent female role model. I aspired to emulate her success, which motivated me through the difficulties of grad school.”
Erica Curtis, Parallax human factors researcher, has a passion for helping others and participates in STEM mentorship programs geared toward empowering young female STEM students. Curtis leverages her life experiences to promote the message that STEM women can do anything they set their minds on.
“I share with my mentees that just because I wear mascara does not mean that it glues my eyes shut,” said Curtis. “I can be feminine and smart at the same time. Those are not mutually exclusive.”
Dr. Devon Whetstone, Parallax scientometrics data scientist, believes that champions in academia or the workplace can be significant drivers for fostering professional development and building confidence among next-gen STEM leaders.
“One of the most important acts women in academia and the business world must do is to be supportive of one another’s continuous advancement.,” said Dr. Whetstone. “Advocate for colleagues’ professional development, encourage one another’s goals, and seek out and champion new opportunities.”
Anna Maresca, Parallax researcher and lab manager, recalls the impact that her Parallax colleagues had on her early career development.
“These people encouraged and modeled female achievement,” said Maresca. “They advocated for me early on and opened up doors of opportunities for me that have greatly advanced my career.”
Exploring STEM through Creative Curiosity & Diversifying Experiences
Brittany Gorsuch, J.D., and technical writer at Parallax, grew up fascinated by her father’s career in aerospace and defense engineering. From an early age, Gorsuch’s father encouraged her absorption and curiosity of scientific and science fiction material, from complex articles published in Science Magazine to Star Trek. This early freedom to explore the STEM and creative fields significantly impacted Gorsuch’s academic and career trajectory, eventually leading her to pursue a Juris Doctor at the University of Dayton, which later led to her landing a technical writing role with Boeing and with Parallax, an applied research institute.
“I was drawn to working in defense, not only because of my father’s influence on me, but also because it allows me to marry my love of science and technology with my skills in writing, analysis, and communication,” said Gorsuch. “STEM is a diverse field that provides opportunity for one to explore different scientific disciplines and nurture your creative passions.”
Dr. Barbara Acker-Mills, Parallax senior research psychologist, took an introductory psychology course in college and connected with material in auditory perception, memory, and motor skill acquisition. As a piano performance major, she became interested in how acoustical properties of instruments and rooms affected music perception and used memory and motor skill principles in her piano practicing. She was surrounded by successful female musicians and scientists at her women’s college who served as role models and supported her dual interests. Dr. Acker-Mills pursued both passions in graduate school and has advanced degrees in cognitive psychology and piano performance.
“Playing the piano is a very complex perceptual and cognitive task; musical notation is decoded, muscle movements planned and executed, and the resulting sound serves as feedback,” said Dr. Acker-Mills. “This intricate, continuous loop is the backdrop over which making music occurs – conveying the emotion of the piece, using historically-accurate stylistic practices, engaging the audience, etc., all while maintaining poise under pressure. Thus, it is an ideal vehicle through which to understand other complex cognitive tasks, which my Parallax team tackles. I am a strong advocate for STEAM, adding the arts to STEM because they so effectively complement each other. You do not have to choose science or the arts – do both!”
Emily Williams, program assistant of the Ohio Space Grant Consortium (OSGC) program, a program managed by the Ohio Aerospace Institute and funded by NASA, shares advice for young leaders interested in pursuing STEM. Her advice is based on her successful application for research scholarships with NASA and a White House internship to assist in teaching STEM-focused classes at her college.
“It’s important to diversify your experiences while preparing to apply for college, scholarships, internships, and careers,” said Williams. “This allows you to develop a robust network of advocates for your success and give you a competitive edge because of the opportunities and leadership roles you held prior to full-time employment.”
Trisha Brown and Carol Thaler, co-directors of Great Lakes Biomimicry, a subsidiary of the Ohio Aerospace Institute, encourage STEM aspirants to invent their way into STEM by asking questions and seeking the answers to them to solve the world’s most challenging problems.
“The sciences are wide open to many interests and skills,” said Brown. “Finding your place in that is worth the effort. You can invent your way into science and tech in broader ways than programming, robotics, and AI.”
“The way forward is taking your interest in biology and/or art and becoming a biomimic,” said Thaler. “A biomimic is someone who looks at nature’s technology and asks: “How does that gecko stick to the ceiling?” or “How does a skunk spray?” “Why do birds have different shaped beaks?” The answers to these questions can help the world find solutions to meet our needs while working within the boundaries of responsible innovation, using less energy and materials, while enhancing the health of the earth.”
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About Parallax Advanced Research
Parallax Advanced Research is a 501(c)(3) private nonprofit research institute that tackles global challenges through strategic partnerships with government, industry, and academia. It accelerates innovation, addresses critical global issues, and develops groundbreaking ideas with its partners. With offices in Ohio and Virginia, Parallax aims to deliver new solutions and speed them to market. In 2023, Parallax and the Ohio Aerospace Institute (OAI) formed a collaborative affiliation to drive innovation and technological advancements in Ohio and for the Nation. OAI plays a pivotal role in advancing the aerospace industry in Ohio and the nation by fostering collaborations between universities, aerospace industries, and government organizations and managing aerospace research, education, and workforce development projects. More information about both organizations can be found at https://parallaxresearch.org/ and https://oai.org/.