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A Jesuit College Preparatory Experience
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Alumna Scientist Speaks to Women in STEM

On Wednesday, January 23, alumna Nicole C. Woitowich, PhD, ’04 spoke to Loyola’s Women in STEM Club during lunch periods. A biologist and biochemist who is now associate director of the Women’s Health Research Institute at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, Woitowich is an advocate and champion for women in STEM and medicine.
She spoke to students about the importance of an education that includes comprehensive scientific training, citing numerous benefits such as the ability to analyze large amounts of data, comprehend technical literature quickly, determine the credibility of sources, communicate with a wide audience and collaborate on a team. This skill set can be used broadly and across many different fields from science to humanities and arts.

“When I started my freshman year at Loyola, I thought I was going to be a journalist,” laughed Woitowich as she began her presentation. An honors student who participated in summer service trips, Kairos and choir, Woitowich said it was her AP Biology class at Loyola that ignited her passion for science.

After Loyola, Woitowich studied biological sciences at Purdue University, where she admittedly struggled with large class sizes and fierce competition in courses designed to “weed out” students. She advised Ramblers to carefully consider their college selection, taking into account access to professors, academic programming, class size and available resources.

Speaking candidly to students, Woitowich shared that initially failing biochemistry, the field in which she now holds a doctorate, was a turning point for her. “I was afraid to ask for help and I didn’t take advantage of the resources available to me,” she explained.

Because her college grades were less than perfect, Woitowich’s advisor discouraged her from pursuing graduate school. She worked for a year before enrolling in a master of science program in biology at Northeastern Illinois University, after which she planned to go into education. It was at Northeastern that another turning point occurred. Working in a lab, Woitowich met the woman who would become her mentor, Associate Professor of Biology Emina A. Stojkovic, PhD. They formed a bond that would open doors and lead Woitowich to the next phase of her career.
 
Under Stojkovic’s guidance, Woitowich gained important experience in the laboratory and was introduced to conservation genetics, endocrinology and cancer biology and had the opportunity to travel internationally for conferences and presentations. With her passion for the sciences cemented—and her grades now improved— Woitowich decided to pursue doctoral studies. She spent the next five years doing research and studying biochemistry and molecular biology at Rosalind Franklin University, where she earned her doctorate in 2016.

Soon after, Woitowich started in her current position as associate director of the Women’s Health Research Institute at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine where she oversees institute projects and initiatives and promotes research that is sex and gender inclusive.  

“What I love about this role is that I get to support the next generation of women in science and medicine,” she says. “I get to ask questions like, ‘How can we improve the requirement and retention of women in STEM?’ Ultimately, improving the diversity of the STEM workforce will improve and advance scientific discoveries.”

She left students with some words of wisdom that she has forged her own path as a woman in STEM:
·         You can never have enough mentors.
·         Advocate for yourself.
·         Ask for help.
·         Failure is okay.
·         Be kind to yourself.

“Dr. Woitowich’s presentation showed me that life isn’t just one straight line,” reflects Grace Couture ’20. “She showed me that as I grow and develop as a person, so can my career. I found her talk really inspiring.”  

This presentation taught us a clear and important lesson: to never give up,” adds sophomore Claudia Herman ’21.  “As girls in STEM, we may have a harder time or face challenges just like Dr. Woitowich, but if we stay persistent and work hard good things will come.”

Currently in its inaugural year, the Women in STEM club offers opportunities for young women at Loyola to explore STEM fields and careers in science, technology, engineering and math. The club meets on Tuesdays at 3:00 p.m. and Wednesdays at 7:15 a.m. in room 128. For more information, contact club moderator Mrs. Anita Debarlaben at adebarlaben@loy.org.
 
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