Pre-teen girls of various ethnic backgrounds sitting at a table and writing with markers
UC Davis provides mentors to 11-year-old girls through “Snap the Gap,” a partnership that also provides modular electronics kits. (Karin Higgins/UC Davis)

CHANCELL-ING: Honoring Women’s Contributions

March is our time to recognize Women’s History Month, and we’re definitely in the spirit at UC Davis. All across the university, from our athletic courts and research labs to our health system and leadership positions, women are empowering UC Davis and shaping a bold future.

Our women’s basketball team recently scored its fourth consecutive Big West Conference regular season title, with a hard-fought victory against UC Riverside. The on-court celebrations included head coach Jennifer Gross and my wife, LeShelle, cutting the net to commemorate the big win. It’s the first time in its Division I history that the team has won four titles in a row.

I’m also thinking of women like Sarah Stewart, a UC Davis planetary scientist who won a MacArthur Fellowship “Genius Grant” last fall. Her trailblazing research is changing notions about how the moon formed and other celestial matters.

In fact, two of the three MacArthur “geniuses” on UC Davis’ faculty are women. The other is professor Leah Krubitzer from the Department of Psychology and Center for Neuroscience, who received the fellowship in 1998 for her definitive work in evolutionary neurobiology.

This is just a small sample of women who continually raise the bar of excellence at UC Davis and inspire us all. Even more inspiration is coming to UC Davis later in this Women’s History Month.

Women to Share Advice at Forum

On March 29, UC Davis will host the inaugural forum for the campus group Women & Philanthropy, “Igniting Connections,” at the Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts. The event is open to all, with a day that emphasizes leadership, community and how women can work together for the common good.

The forum includes a keynote by Lydia Fenet, author of The Most Powerful Woman in the Room Is You. As the global managing director of Christie’s Auction House, she’ll share her career journey and the strategies that helped build her leadership.

Other speakers include Helene Dillard, dean of UC Davis’ College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. The timing for her talk couldn’t be better. UC Davis was recently ranked once again as the top school in the country for agriculture and second in the world.

You’ll also hear from Alison Ledgerwood, a professor and Chancellor’s Fellow in UC Davis’ department of psychology. She’ll provide invaluable tips in combating negative thinking and workplace stress. Also, Ellen Hartigan-O’Connor from our history department will share insights on “100 Years Before and After the 19th Amendment.”

LeShelle is especially looking forward to the event, where she’ll interview Fenet after her keynote and give closing remarks. LeShelle’s also a member of the Women & Philanthropy Advisory Council, which is raising funds for a Women & Philanthropy Impact Award that will help elevate our scholarship.

After all, it’s critical that women are adequately represented in our scholarship and research enterprises. I’m proud that UC Davis is among the country’s top universities for launching women into the STEM careers of science, technology, engineering and math. But there’s plenty more we can do.

Diversity in engineering has real impacts

This is important not just for social equity, but because gender balance leads to better innovations.

Did you know that the first airbags in the auto industry almost killed women passengers? That’s because they were tested on crash-test dummies that had male anatomies.

Do you remember Speak & Spells? Those were some of the first hand-held computers for children. They were voice-activated, but there was just one problem: They initially didn’t respond to a girl’s voice. The manufacturer didn’t have any women on the design team.

That’s why we need to make sure women are well-represented in STEM. They bring different perspectives that can make a world of difference.

So, the work continues. I’m encouraged by events like “Igniting Connections,” which are helping women build leadership, networking opportunities and career skills. I’m encouraged by STEM for Girls, a day of hands-on learning and mentorship at UC Davis that inspires elementary school students to pursue STEM fields.

Let’s continue to celebrate the women who’ve contributed so much to our past and those who help push us toward a better day. Happy Women’s History Month!