UA Little Rock Celebrates International Day of Women and Girls in Science

February 11 is International Day of Women and Girls in Science.

In celebration of International Day of Women and Girls in Science, UA Little Rock has highlighted some of the women in science at UA Little Rock, their amazing research, and their journeys to pursue careers in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) fields.

Dr. Beth McMillan, Chair of the Department of Earth Sciences

I am a geologist who studies landscapes — their forms and the processes that shape them. I grew up in Neosho, MO, and attended Colorado College, earning a bachelor’s in Geology. I also attended Colorado School of Mines for a master’s in Environmental Science and Engineering. Finally, I graduated from the University of Wyoming with a Ph.D. in Geology.  My husband and I have two children, both will be freshman in the fall 2021. My son will be attending Colorado College, and my daughter will be a freshman at Little Rock Central High School. My hobbies are mostly outdoor related. I love to hike, camp, ride my bike, and travel. 

What is your role as a woman in science at UA Little Rock? 

I am the chairperson of the Department of Earth Sciences, a position that I aspired to from the earliest days of my career and one that I am very proud to have attained. My role is to help remove obstacles and provide opportunities for our students and our faculty, ultimately in order to better understand how the Earth works and how we can live sustainably with our environment. As a female geoscientist, I want to demonstrate how women can be successful in balancing work and family even when pursuing careers that often take them to distant and remote field areas.

What inspired you to pursue a STEM career?

Dr. Beth McMillan
Dr. Beth McMillan

I was drawn to science and math from an early age. I collected rocks as a very young child just because I liked their shapes. I never knew that you could pursue a career in studying how they formed and why they had those shapes. I was very fortunate to have parents who supported my interests and to have had teachers in middle school and high school who also fully encouraged my interests in the natural world. 

When I was a freshman in college, I took an Introductory Geology course. Other students told me it was a great field-trip class. That really appealed to me — to be able to go out to see and touch the things that were usually only seen as pictures in textbooks. My academic advisors were also very supportive of me, even when I had my first child during my Ph.D. studies.

Why do you think diversity is important, especially in STEM fields?

Diversity is of the utmost importance in STEM. We are all motivated by the accumulated experiences of our backgrounds. These experiences guide us to ask questions that are relevant to us as people. For me, I care very much about women’s health, my children’s future, and how the health of the Earth will impact these issues.

What advice would you give to young girls who want to pursue a career in STEM?

First of all, there is a place for you in STEM.  Second, work with those people who see you and value you for who you are and who you want to be.

Sandra Leiterman, Managing Director of the Cyber Gym

Sandra Leiterman
Sandra Leiterman

I am originally from Wisconsin, but I moved to Little Rock in 2006. I attended UA Little Rock and received my bachelor’s in Middle School Education (Math-Science) in 2010. I have a graduate certificate in Gifted and Talented Education also from UA Little Rock, and a master’s degree in Digital Teaching and Online Learning from Kansas State. I am currently working on my Ph.D. in Urban Education with a specialization in Math Education. 

I have been married for 24 years. I have one son who will graduate in May from Oklahoma State University, and I have a dog named Humphrey. When I am not at work or working on schoolwork, you can find me at CycleBar, or on a run with my dog at one of the bridge parks such as the Two Rivers or Big Dam Bridge. I also find sewing very therapeutic and mind-calming. 

What is your role as a woman in science at UA Little Rock? 

I am currently the Managing Director of the UA Little Rock Cyber Gym. The Cyber Gym provides massively scalable cloud-based cybersecurity workouts (problems and threat exercises) appropriate for every level of the cybersecurity workforce pipeline. We provide realistic, hands-on activities in a variety of cybersecurity subject areas to reinforce security learning objectives and develop the skills needed to protect the nation’s critical infrastructure.

I work with recruitment and outreach to bring people, especially women and other typically underrepresented students, to our program via workshops, summer camps, and, ultimately, our degree programs. 

I am also on the steering committee for the Annual Girls of Promise Conference. I have hosted several women/girls in STEM workshops in the past five years, both on and off campus. Most recently was the Women in Cyber Security Summit on International Day of the Girl 2020. 

The Just a Prototype robotics team members include: Back row (L-R) Jamie Burrows, Rachel Smith, Shala Nail, and Donetha Groover. Front row (L-R) David Shurley , FLN the robot, and Faculty Advisor Sandra Leiterman.
The Just a Prototype robotics team members include: Back row (L-R) Jamie Burrows, Rachel Smith, Shala Nail, and Donetha Groover. Front row (L-R) David Shurley , FLN the robot, and Faculty Advisor Sandra Leiterman.

What inspired you to pursue a STEM career?

I have always enjoyed math and science. However, I did not enjoy the way it was taught. I became a STEM educator to have an impact on building competence and confidence for students in the math and science fields. In my first year teaching, I saw how inequitable opportunities were for the girls in my class, mostly because they had no one to encourage or believe in them. I began to encourage all of my girls to participate in extracurricular activities such as robotics, science fairs, and the science olympiad. I coached the first all-girls robotics team in the state of Arkansas. 

Why do you think diversity is important, especially in STEM fields?

I think everyone has something to offer as far as creativity, critical thinking, and problem solving. Far too often, we see women’s ideas and approaches being dismissed or diminished. If women are not invited to participate, then the STEM fields are missing out on talent. 

What advice would you give to young girls who want to pursue a career in STEM?

One of my favorite quotes is from Shirley Chisholm: “If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.”  Have the confidence in yourself to believe you belong there.

Khristina Huff, Junior Biology and Chemistry Student 

I was raised in the small, rural town of Cleveland, Arkansas by my parents Cary Huff and Carin Knopfer. It was a quiet area to say the least, but nonetheless taught me many valuable life lessons that I will always hold dear. I found a wide range of hobbies to keep me busy in such a small area, including martial arts, art classes, piano, video games, and poetry.

 Khristina Huff
Khristina Huff

The area provided opportunities that others my age may not have been able to experience.  My neighbors have a farm and for seven years, I worked as a farmhand and farmer’s market helper. The summer after my freshman year in college, I worked at the farm and interned at the local hospital to aid in my aspirations as a future orthopedic surgeon. It was here that I shadowed a variety of careers including orthopedics, wound care, radiology, emergency medicine, rehab and more. The summer after this, my study abroad trip was canceled due to COVID-19. I decided to pursue experience in home health and became a personal care aide to help patients in daily routines at their homes.

What is your role as a woman in science at UA Little Rock? 

After graduating from Clinton High School and being accepted into the Donaghey Scholars Program, I began my journey at UA Little Rock on a pre-med track to gain my bachelor’s in biology and in chemistry. Since attending UA Little Rock, I have found some really amazing opportunities. I joined the VEX Robotics team during my freshman year and later shadowed research within our Nanotech department. In my second semester of freshman year, I was selected to be a learning assistant, leading a weekly chemistry workshop each semester. This semester, I have begun to work behind the scenes with the university’s Learning Assistant program, studying the impact of this program on increasing the success of diverse students, especially those from marginalized groups. Additionally, this semester I was selected to begin biomedical research at UA Little Rock, beginning in the next few weeks. 

What inspired you to pursue a STEM career?

The many exciting experiences that I have had the chance to participate in all prepare me for my future career as a healthcare provider. I grew up with two disabled veterans as parents, and as someone who has witnessed their hardships, it has created a passion within me to care for patients like them. Watching members of underserved groups struggle for quality healthcare is heartbreaking to me. 

Why do you think diversity is important, especially in STEM fields?

With the increasing diversity of patients within medicine, it is imperative that providers are able to understand their concerns. The same goes for those working in STEM fields. By introducing this kind of diversity into the workplace, we are repaid with understanding, brilliant, and beyond capable physicians, engineers, teachers, and more. 

What advice would you give to young girls who want to pursue a career in STEM?

By bringing diversity such as this into the workplace, young women are fully able to pursue any career that they desire. It is these women that will bring equity as well as equality to our society. It is these women that will open doors never seen before to those before them. It is these women who are the future of our ever-changing world. The first step for these girls is to see their potential and know that no career goal is ever too big for them to achieve. The second is to show others that they can do the same. With a mindset such as this, these young women will pave the way for others such as themselves, creating a future in which little girls can pursue their goals without a shadow of doubt.

Dr. Noureen Siraj, Assistant Professor, Department of Chemistry

Dr. Noureen Siraj
Dr. Noureen Siraj

Born and raised in a middle class family, I started tutoring science and mathematics to my junior students when I was only in eighth grade. Since then, I have considered myself a part of the academic world and found a natural teacher inside me. 

I was raised in a family and a part of the world where girls do not get equal opportunities of higher and quality education compared to boys. My admission to university had several hurdles, including cultural resistance and financial expenses.

However, I was able to overcome all these barriers with my severe persistence and father’s assistance. I am the first one in my family who was admitted to a university for higher education. Because of me, my younger sister found it easier to follow my route and complete her master’s in Chemistry. I graduated from the university as a top rank student not only in my class but also in the chemistry department. I was awarded with four gold medals at the same university where I was admitted on probation.

After completing my master’s degree in chemistry, I started teaching in college and then joined the university as an instructor. I received a fully funded scholarship for my Ph.D. in Austria. This was the first time in my life to travel abroad, and it was a life changing experience for me. During my stay in Austria, I met and made friends from different countries, cultures, religions, and language. I learned a lot from my friends and class fellows of diverse backgrounds. I travelled to many European countries (Germany, Denmark, France, Spain, Switzerland, Italy, Czech Republic, Netherland, Slovakia, Slovenia, etc.)

My hobby was to explore different places, cultures, and languages, as well as visit churches and mosques. This exposure made me flexible, adaptable, and respectful to people of different ethnicities and languages and enabled me to appreciate the importance of diversity.

I came to the U.S. as a postdoctoral scholar in the Warner Research group at Louisiana State University. The research group was also very diverse. The contribution of Dr. Warner for African American students was tremendous. My goal is to develop a very strong research group of diverse people who thrive in research and innovation. 

What is your role as a woman in science at UA Little Rock? 

I am the only female research professor in the department. At present, I am running the largest research group in the department as well. Currently, there are six female graduate and seven undergraduate research students working in my laboratory. My research group includes first-generation college students, African American students, women, international students, and white students. These numbers corroborate that women can be good researchers and excel in STEM fields.

My current research focuses on exploring the application of ionic nanomaterials in the arena of health, environment, and energy. I have published 18 manuscripts since joining UA Little Rock.

Research grants are critical to develop a strong and successful research group. In the last 4 years, I have secured funding from federal agencies (NSF and NASA), state (Arkansas Division of Higher Education, INBRE) and local grants (college and signature awards). I travelled to the Georgia Institute of Technology (GIT) with my graduate student via a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant to perform superior research with well-known scientists. Learning there helped me to enhance the scope of research projects in my lab. 

My students have presented research in different conferences including ACS national and regional meetings, IDeA Network of Biomedical Research Excellence (INBRE) conferences, at the Arkansas State Capitol, the UA Little Rock EXPO, and more. Many of my undergraduate and graduate students have received awards for their research oral and poster presentations. Last year, my undergraduate students received first position at an INBRE conference and first and third place at the UA Little Rock Expo.

In the upper right photo, Noureen Siraj works in her chemistry lab. Photo by Ben Krain.
Dr. Noureen Siraj works in her chemistry lab. Photo by Ben Krain.

I mentor three to five K-12 school students every year who present their scientific findings and learnings in their school, regional, state, and international science fairs. Many high school students from my lab have received distinctions and cash prizes at regional, state and international competitions. In 2018, Meghana Bollimpali, a junior high school student who worked under me, won the 2nd place grand award of $50K at Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF). No other student from Arkansas has ever achieved such distinction. In 2019, another student from my lab, Amna Khan, won third place in the chemistry category at Intel ISEF. In 2020, two high school students secured first place in the regional science fair and were selected to participate at ISEF. 

I serve on many committees within the university that work to improve the diversity in STEM. I provide volunteer service to various journals. I serve on the review panel for proposals as a member of the editorial board and reviewer committee. I am also a member of the Donaghey Scholars Program Policy Council. I serve as a judge for the UA Little Rock Poster Expo. I am also a member of the Mock PreMed Interview Committee.

In the department, I am a chair of the Safety Committee, member of the Assessment Committee, and a part of the Awards and Recognition Committee. I am a Chemistry Olympiad Exam coordinator for the Central Arkansas region. I am also a member of the scientific review committee of ISEF.

What inspired you to pursue a STEM career?

I am a chemist today because a chemistry teacher in my undergrad inspired me to the extent that I fell in love with this subject and chose to become a researcher as well as a teacher in this amazing field. It is my turn now to inspire the next generation to do wonders and serve humanity by making new discoveries and inventions in this field. 

Why do you think diversity is important, especially in STEM fields?

Innovation in STEM comes from out-of-the-box thinking. People think differently because of their different backgrounds, experiences in their lives, and values. Diverse students in STEM innovate solutions that were not possible with people of the same experiences and backgrounds. Diversity allows students to share their unique experiences with the group and their unique approach to solving the problems.

What advice would you give to young girls who want to pursue a career in STEM?

Girls, you can excel in STEM fields. Initially, things look difficult but a little patience, hard work and perseverance make things easier. Once you develop interest, you will start enjoying it. Hands-on experience in the lab helps to develop interest and understand difficult concepts in classes.

Dr. Laura S. Ruhl-Whittle, Associate Professor in the Earth Science Department

Dr. Laura Ruhl
Dr. Laura Ruhl-Whittle

I’m from Ft. Myers, FL, although I spent some of my childhood in Monroe, LA. I went to the University of Florida for my Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees. Although I began as a pre-med major, I found that I really enjoyed learning about the Earth processes and majored in Geology. I’ve combined my interest in Health with Geology and do research in the field of Medical Geology, specifically looking at the formation and mineralogy of kidney stones. I got my Ph.D. at Duke University in Earth and Ocean Sciences.  

In my spare time I enjoy reading, running, hiking with my family, playing with my 3-year -old, and baking. 

What is your role as a woman in science at UA Little Rock? 

I am a woman scientist at UA Little Rock in the Department of Earth Sciences. I teach many classes from introductory Physical Geology and Earth and the Environment to upper levels such as environmental geology, hydrogeology, Geology and Ecology of the Bahamas, and Geochemistry. My research consists of understanding the behavior of contaminants in the environment from mining activities, urban activities, and energy uses and resources. As I mentioned above, I am also pursuing research in the field of Medical Geology, looking at the impact of geological materials on human health (urban road dust or coal ash that one may breathe in) to how geological materials form in the human body (kidney stones). 

What inspired you to pursue a STEM career? 

Dr. Laura Ruhl-Whittle
Dr. Laura Ruhl-Whittle

I’ve always had an interest in science (biology, pre-med, etc). One of my favorite places in the world is the beach, so naturally geology was a good fit for me. I didn’t know about geology when I began my undergrad, but after taking one class I was hooked. I loved the way that science explained the happenings in the world around me from why we have mountains and volcanoes where we do to the reason we have ocean basins. 

Why do you think diversity is important, especially in STEM fields?

Diversity is essential in STEM fields. I’ve found that many scientists use their backgrounds and experiences to approach problems, therefore having a diverse STEM population brings many new and great ideas to STEM. I also think it is important to have diversity to show that anyone who wants to can be a scientist, engineer, or mathematician.

What advice would you give to young girls who want to pursue a career in STEM?

You can do it! If you have an interest in science, engineering, or math, check out the possibilities for careers. There are so many more than I ever thought possible, and you can have it all — a career in science, a life, and a family.

Iris Denmark, Ph.D. student in Applied Sciences specializing in Chemistry

I am from Jacksonville, Fl. I’m the youngest girl of five and the daughter of a nurse and a teacher. I am currently pursuing my Ph.D. in chemistry by day and work full-time as a supervisor at a local Marriott by night. My favorite pastimes are confiding in my siblings and making and selling personal care products for my Etsy business. Family is my priority and the main motivation for everything I do.

Iris Denmark
Iris Denmark

Being a woman in science has incited many opportunities for me such as having my undergraduate education funded by NASA, governmental and international research opportunities, jobs, and graduate education. I highly recommend it, and think others should definitely try it. 

What is your role as a woman in science at UA Little Rock?

I am currently a third-year Applied Sciences Ph.D. student in the applied chemistry graduate program. My current research is in the sector of electrochemistry, in which I make and characterize supercapacitor materials from bioavailable resources under the mentorship of Dr. Noureen Siraj. During my time in the lab, I also serve as a mentor to undergraduates and high school students who have taken interest in electrochemistry and applications for renewable energy.

What inspired you to pursue a STEM career?

My father teaches math and science. Also, I attended high school at an engineering magnet academy in Florida, so my exposure to STEM has always been there, as well as my encouragement to pursue an education and career in STEM. I initially wanted to be a biomedical engineer, but my academic journey and experiences solidified my interests in analytical chemistry instead.

Why do you think diversity is important, especially in STEM fields?

I can attest firsthand that diversity in the STEM field is especially important. It is imperative to demonstrate to those from all walks of life that they can be successful in every endeavor, including STEM, despite their background, or circumstances. Michelle Obama says that if you are committed to doing what it takes, anything is possible.

What advice would you give to young girls who want to pursue a career in STEM?

I would say to them that there will absolutely be times of adversity and discomfort for women pursuing careers in STEM, a male-dominated field. The key to overcoming this adversity is to remain focused and humble and let your work speak for itself.

Dr. Elizabeth Pierce, Associate Professor and Department Chair of Information Science

Dr. Elizabeth Pierce
Dr. Elizabeth Pierce


I grew up outside of Pittsburgh, PA. I was very fortunate to grow up in a community that employed a lot of engineers, teachers, scientists, and professional people who really valued hard work and education. I attended Penn State where I discovered the field of Management Science (an early version of the Management Information Systems).

This choice of major led me to a job as a Programmer Analyst at IBM where I later picked up a master’s in Computer Science. I then decided I would really like to teach at a university so I got my Ph.D. in Statistics and Management Science from the University of Michigan. This really helped me to achieve my career goal of becoming faculty, first at one of the state schools in Pennsylvania and then at UA Little Rock.

What is your role as a woman in science at UA Little Rock?

My role is to provide educational services in information systems, technologies, and data sciences to undergraduate and graduate students. My research interests include data governance, data quality, and data analytics. Our department is now home to one of the top online Information Science and Information Quality graduate programs in the country. Plus, we have a very successful track record of training and placing our undergraduates in tech jobs in Arkansas and surrounding states.

What inspired you to pursue a STEM career?

I liked working with data and trying to figure out what you can do with data. There are lots of neat things you can do with data such as using it to describe the world around us, help diagnose issues, make predictions, and help us figure out the best course of action to take. But to make this happen, you need to have the systems and technologies in place to collect, store, manage, use, and protect the data as well as ensuring the quality of the data.

Why do you think diversity is important, especially in STEM fields?

Diversity brings thinking from lots of different perspectives. We need lots of different viewpoints to help make sure that our information systems, technologies, products and services help all people.

What advice would you give to young girls who want to pursue a career in STEM?

You can do this. You can make a difference. There are lots of different types of jobs in the IT Industry and lots of organizations that need people who can help them manage, protect, and make the most use of their data for solving tough problems and for helping to serve their customers better.

Julia Green, Senior Computer Science Major

Julia Green
Julia Green

I’m from Maumelle, AR, and I am a senior here at UA Little Rock pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Computer Science with a minor in Mathematics. Outside of school and work, you can often find me reading, drawing, or playing video games. After I finish my bachelor’s, I plan on pursuing a master’s and eventually a Ph.D. in Computer Science. I really enjoy research and want to pursue a full-time career in it. I am really curious about the applications of computer science in meteorology and would love to work for the National Weather Service one day!

What is your role as a woman in science at UA Little Rock? 

My role as a woman in science at UA Little Rock currently consists of several endeavors. I have been working as an undergraduate research assistant in the Emerging Analytics Center since October 2019. I really enjoy getting to put my art and programming skills to the test on the various AR/VR research projects I work on. 

I also enjoy getting to help tutor other students in computer science courses through my position as a CSTEM Ambassador. In addition to my jobs, I am the president of the eSports Club as well as the treasurer and webmaster of the UA Little Rock ACM Student Chapter. Through my participation in these organizations, I get to work on many different projects that I am passionate about, further improve my abilities as a Computer Scientist, and (most importantly) have fun.

What inspired you to pursue a STEM career?

Several things inspired my pursuit of a STEM career, with the primary factor being my love for computers. I have loved working with computers since I was very young and have known that I wanted to work with them for much of my life. Another thing that inspired me was the abundance of need for people in Computer Science and STEM as a whole. This abundance of need, I hope, will provide job stability for me and many others in the future. The last thing that inspired me to join STEM is my own desire to provide for myself. I have always been a very independent individual and desired to be my own breadwinner from a young age. I felt that a STEM career was one of my best chances to achieve this.

Why do you think diversity is important, especially in STEM fields?

Diversity is an invaluable resource in any field as it provides different viewpoints and ways of thinking. STEM fields are notorious for being male-dominated. As their diversity increases, these different viewpoints and ways of thinking will allow for creativity and innovation to flourish even more so than is currently. This will lead to more creations and discoveries which, in turn, will be more inclusive of the population as a whole. Since STEM fields are what drive a lot of our development as a species, it is good that they are more representative of the population as a whole. 

What advice would you give to young girls who want to pursue a career in STEM?

My first piece of advice I have for young girls wanting to pursue a career in STEM is to advocate for yourself. Your thoughts and ideas are important, but it is up to you to make sure they are heard. You can’t always depend on others, sadly, so don’t be afraid to speak your mind or stand up for yourself. My second piece of advice is to not be afraid of STEM just because of its notoriety for a lack of diversity. Despite this lack of diversity, I have met many good people and made many close friendships with my STEM colleagues. Moreover, STEM’s lack of diversity won’t be mended unless more people from different backgrounds decide to pursue a career in it. I am excited for more young girls to join STEM and see what all we are able to accomplish together in the future.

Mujeebat Bashiru, Doctorate Student in Applied Chemistry

Mujeebat Bashiru
Mujeebat Bashiru

I am Mujeebat Bashiru, a third-year student currently pursuing her Doctorate Degree in Applied Chemistry at UA Little Rock. As an international student who hailed from Nigeria, I am delighted to be among this great diverse community. I obtained my bachelor’s degree from University of Ilorin, Nigeria, but was passionate to seek more knowledge from a totally different environment abroad in a more diverse community with people from various backgrounds and cultures. 

What is your role as a woman in science at UA Little Rock?

I currently work as a teaching assistant in the department to impact knowledge to students. The Chemistry Department is a community of good people. To the best of my knowledge, they are willing to support and help achieve my career goal.

As a researcher undergoing the learning process, meeting people, learning new ideas, sharing ideas, impacting lives, proffering solutions to problems, and sharing time with my family and friends are my interests.

The department is occupied with various active research groups. Joining one of them known as the Siraj’s Lab (Analytical/Physical/Material Chemistry Laboratory) is indeed priceless with similar career goals and objectives. Briefly, Siraj’s lab is composed of 95% female chemists! Under the supervision of a female mentor, the group focuses on solving problems facing health, energy, and environment with the use of inexpensive materials that are environmentally friendly to greatly improve the living quality and prosperity of people.

What inspired you to pursue a STEM career?

Since I was little, I was faced with the thought of being a problem solver. And the various potentials of chemistry in terms of its versatility to almost all aspects that one can ever think of inspired me. With this, I must say it is a great field. Obtaining a doctorate degree in chemistry will develop me to conduct independent research at the highest academic level. With this, I can achieve my dream. Life will not only be impacted but it will also make me fulfilled.

Why do you think diversity is important, especially in STEM fields?

Since the STEM field is very broad, diversity is of great importance due to the unity involved. There is much more quality in coming together of great minds with a similar vision and mission. This will really help in achieving goals that seem impossible and  should be encouraged.

Tina Hesabizadeh, Doctoral Student in Applied Biosciences

Tina Hesabizadeh
Tina Hesabizadeh

My name is Tina. I graduated with my B.S. in Biology in December 2020, and I am currently a Ph.D. student in the Applied Biosciences program at UA Little Rock. 

I am Persian, originally from Iran, but I have called Little Rock my home for the past 12 years! I enjoy being outdoors, and I love looking at a clear sky at night and travel among the stars in my mind! I am very honored to be in the STEM field and to be able to celebrate the International Day of Women and Girls in Science! 

What is your role as a woman in science at UA Little Rock?

I am currently conducting research with the Department of Physics and Astronomy, as well as the Biology department. I started my research when I joined the McNair Scholars Program as an undergraduate, and I have been working on Synthesis of Selenium Nanoparticles using Laser Ablation.

I love teaching and informing others about my research, and I have hope to inspire other women to pursue their dreams in the STEM field. 

What inspired you to pursue a STEM career?

From the first moment I was introduced to the laser lab by my mentor and advisor Dr. Guisbiers, I knew that I was going to enjoy and love working in the lab, and I have always had hope that my research can one day leave an impact or change lives for the better. When I am working in the lab, I only think about the future of humankind and the positive impact our research can have.

Why do you think diversity is important, especially in STEM fields?

Each person brings a unique character and skill to the field. If we are not diverse, our research will be very limited, and our results and discoveries will decrease as the result of that. Diversity is the key importance for our future innovations, discoveries, and achievements. 

What advice would you give to young girls who want to pursue a career in STEM?

I would advise any young girl to know that you are the future, and you can change the world with your dedication and hard work. Remember that our future depends on you, so never give up on your dreams of changing our world for better because I know you can! Keep on inspiring! 

“Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.” – Marie Curie

Ruby Trotter, Chemistry and Spanish Major

I am a premedical student majoring in Chemistry and Spanish, with a minor in Biology. My career aspirations are to become a physician (likely a pediatrician, internal medicine physician, or family physician) while also dipping my toes into public health so that I can address health disparities in the Black and Latino communities, as well as health policy.

I was born and raised in Arkansas, but went to high school in Houston, Texas, before making my way back to UA Little Rock in the Donaghey Scholars Program. Here at UA Little Rock, I’ve been blessed with countless opportunities to learn more about where I want to be in the near and distant future! Some hobbies include playing the violin, learning the guitar, visiting local coffee shops, and hiking Arkansas.

What is your role as a woman in science at UA Little Rock?

At UA Little Rock, I have been blessed to have many opportunities to explore the sciences. I am involved in research at the Center for Integrative Nanotechnology Sciences where I have been studying bone tissue regeneration technologies since Fall 2019 and will be starting a final project for the Donaghey Scholars Program surrounding how certain cells in our body interact with a material that we have functionalized in lab which supports bone growth. I have secured a Signature Experience Grant for this research project and am very excited about it!

Ruby Trotter
Ruby Trotter

I have been a Learning Assistant in the Fundamental Chemistry classroom for three semesters, and plan to start again in the Fall 2021 semester. In this role, I have helped to lead students to understanding more about Chemistry through interactive workshop sessions. This experience has given me so much confidence in my ability to potentially teach others in the future (maybe I’ll come back and teach medical school after a few decades in the profession).

I am also a Chemistry Education Researcher on campus, where I am studying how students perceive Active Learning strategies employed in our Chemistry classrooms and how that impacts final course outcomes. I was rewarded a Student Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) grant from ADHE for this research in Spring 2020. This research has opened my eyes and confirmed my interest in health disparities with the parallels that I have seen in education opportunities.

During the summer after my freshman year, I secured an internship at the Arkansas Department of Health, where I was able to do research surrounding the state’s hospitals and their efficiency in minimizing Healthcare Associated Infections (HAIs). I began networking in the healthcare field, and learned so many skills in research, Excel, presentations, and a new knowledge of what all goes into caring for a patient. It was amazing to get this other perspective of it all.

The summer after my sophomore year, I was accepted into the Summer Health Professions Education Program (SHPEP) – a highly selective program for aspiring medical, dental, and nursing professionals at universities around the country. Through the UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine, I learned a lot about different specialties in medicine, made incredible connections, and participated in a research project with a group of fellow scholars. At the end of the summer, we had developed a project proposal to address health disparities (specifically rate of prenatal care and preterm labor/maternal mortality rates) among African American women in Arkansas entitled, “The Prenatal Promise: Addressing Prenatal Care Disparities in Arkansas.” This experience was really exciting as I was able to introduce my group to an issue we had back here at home, and they latched onto it and helped me brainstorm ways to address it.

I have volunteered at Harmony Health Clinic and 12th Street Health & Wellness Center here in Little Rock, which were both recommended to me by former scholars.

I am also in the Louis Stokes’ Alliance for Minority Participation – an organization which desires to increase minority participation in the STEM majors and the field itself. Dr. Lakeshia Jones has encouraged me to attend several conferences to present my research and has found countless internships and opportunities for us to apply to.

What inspired you to pursue a STEM career?

I can’t say that there was ever one defining moment that made me want to go into medicine. I have always been interested in the world around me, how science affects it, and how cool the human body is (come on, it heals itself). I do think that I had very supportive parents who inspired me to pursue this career. My dad always encouraged me to learn more about what I was passionate about, and my mom being in public health herself and sharing her knowledge with me along the way.

Why do you think diversity is important, especially in STEM fields?

My Donaghey Scholars admission essay was actually about this exact topic. Diversity is incredibly important in general and especially in the STEM fields. As a Chemistry Education Researcher, I know that many students can feel uninspired or incapable of making it in a field where they are consistently told and shown that the best scientists do not look like them. They think, “Is this the field for me if I am not even represented in it?”

Not only that, but there are also perspectives that people of different races, genders, ages, and other backgrounds can bring to a problem in STEM that others may not have thought of. Certain barriers make it such that our nation is missing out on some of the brightest and most innovative minds in STEM. It is vital that we increase diversity in these disciplines to give hope to the next generation of STEM professionals, and to show them that they do belong in this field – no matter what they are hearing otherwise.

What advice would you give to young girls who want to pursue a career in STEM?

The advice that I would give to a young girl pursuing a career is: Listen to your heart telling you what you are passionate about, the way in which you think you can make the most difference in this world, or even just what you are super drawn towards. You don’t have to know exactly what that is right now. But when you hear that voice in your head telling you that this seems exciting and you really want this, don’t let any barrier or any person tell you that you can’t. It will be incredibly difficult to make it all the way, but also incredibly rewarding.

As a piece of tangible advice: Take every advantage that you can of having a mentor figure in your life. There’s no way I would be where I am right now without mentors that I have made along the way who have believed in me and directed me to the right resources to find the opportunities that I have, and I am forever grateful for them.

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