Women in STEM: They're Setting the Pace

By Jillian Gorry ’11, ’21
Photography: Natalie Chitwood, Drew Levin

These Pace women in STEM are rockin’ it in the labs, in the field, and in the industry. They’re collaborating across disciplines and pushing the limits on cutting-edge research—not to mention, they’re helping young women follow in their footsteps.

Quick! Picture a scientist in a lab.

Now, picture a web developer.

Next, picture a researcher. 

Pop quiz: were the people you pictured men?

If you said yes, you wouldn’t be alone. And don’t worry, we won’t hold it against you. We promise.

These stereotypes, while pervasive, are far from the reality—especially at Pace.

STEM (read: science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields are social fields. Across industries, STEM fields comprise a deeply interconnected web of professionals who help and inspire each other, and the network of women in these professions is steadily rising. According to the National Girls Collaborative Project, a national organization committed to encouraging girls to pursue careers in STEM, half of the American workforce is college-educated women. The bad news is, right now, women only account for 28 percent of the workforce in STEM fields. But there’s a silver lining to that sad statistic: since the early ’90s, the number of women in STEM fields has grown more than 20 percent and that number is increasing daily.

More and more, women are the researchers, developers, and bright minds of tomorrow—and here at Pace, they’re working together to not only effect major change in the industry, but also to ensure they pave the way for others like them to join in. In fact, nearly a third of our students at the Seidenberg School of Computer Science and Information Systems are women and that’s a number we’re hoping to see grow.

Move over, men. Pace’s women in STEM are getting it done.

Peta-Gay Clarke

Peta-Gay Clarke

The Coding Crusader

Peta-Gay Clarke ’15 is always looking toward the future. She’s the program lead for Google’s Code Next, a group pioneering efforts to increase opportunities for women and underrepresented youth in STEM. It’s a cause close to her heart. “Prior to joining Google, I worked in various industries as a software engineer and then as a deputy director of IT. In many of these positions, I was often the only woman, the only person of color, and usually the youngest on my team.”

Clarke joined Google in 2015. Part of the grassroots efforts to lift the Code Next program, it began as a pilot with only 50 students in Oakland, CA, as well as NYC. “Our goal was to establish a robust high school technology pathway program [...] with a vision to cultivate the next generation of transformational Black and Latinx tech leaders,” she explained. This wildly popular program has since expanded to include more than 1,000 students with a 50/50 gender split across all their cohorts. And their first group of students will be graduating high school this year!

Read the full profile on Peta-Gay Clarke
Pace University, Professor Nancy Krucher, PhD

Nancy Krucher

The Rockstar Researcher

Breast cancer is the most commonly occurring cancer in women and the second most common cancer overall, and according to the World Cancer Research fund, there were more than two million new cases in 2018 alone. At Pace University, Professor Nancy Krucher, PhD, understands the transformative power of research. She’s a pioneer in the fight against breast cancer, and currently utilizing a recent $399,000 grant she received from the National Cancer Institute of the National Institutes of Health (2018–2021) to study a new class of drugs called CDK4/6 inhibitors.

“This new class of drugs inhibit cancer cell growth by activating a tumor suppressor gene, Rb,” Krucher explained. “These inhibitors improve patient outcomes for about a year, but then the cancer becomes resistant to the treatment.” It’s these biochemical mechanisms by which the cancer develops resistance against these drugs that Krucher and six Pace undergraduate students have been working tirelessly to study and understand over the past two years. “We have found that targeting a metabolic pathway responsible for the biosynthesis of lipids in the cell may be a strategy that could be employed to improve these breast cancer treatments in the clinic.”

Read the full profile on Nancy Krucher

Andreea Cotoranu

The Cybersecurity Expert

STEM is a powerful tool for understanding the world,” says Clinical Professor of Information Technology Andreea Cotoranu ’04, ’08, ’20. 

Cotoranu’s expertise helps students get real-life experience with handling cyber-attacks and reporting incidents in a high-pressure environment.

But college students aren’t the only ones she teaches. Her efforts have been laser focused on Pace’s GenCyber program, a cybersecurity initiative funded by the National Security Agency that trains high school teachers. Over the past five years, the program has trained more than 100 teachers from 100+ high schools in 28 states.

Read the full profile on Andreea Cotoranu
Pace University Seidenberg Professor Li-Chiou Chen, PhD

Li-Chiou Chen

The Cryptocurrency Collaborator

Seidenberg Professor Li-Chiou Chen, PhD, has seen quite a bit of change in the realm of cybersecurity and information technology policy during her 16 years at Pace. As an expert in an ever-evolving field, she has taken a particular interest in mentoring, training, and preparing students for whatever might come their way as they begin to navigate their careers in cybersecurity. Which is why, as the Principal Investigator of Pace’s CyberCorps® program—through which she has helped secured millions of dollars in grants from the National Science Foundation—Chen has placed particular emphasis on student advisory and mentorship.

“I’ve found that the experience has been very rewarding. I’ve learned a lot from this process over the past 10 years—how to advise students, and how to work with them in research,” said Chen. “A lot of students have had successful careers in cybersecurity and government. It’s making an impact on student lives, and it’s one I'm grateful to make.”

Read the full profile on Li-Chiou Chen

Christelle Scharff, PhD

The Mobile Mogul

Computer Science Professor Christelle Scharff, PhD, has a global reputation. She founded MobileSenegal Hub, a groundbreaking initiative in mobile training and entrepreneurship that significantly expanded the mobile ecosystem in Senegal. Since its inception in 2008, the program has trained more than 400 developers, as well as launched the first-ever mobile competition in the country.

“Computing is a difficult field and it is the quickest evolving field,” Scharff told us. “I am always telling students who ask me about my expectations that I want them to amaze me. I am often amazed.” Her students have developed everything from mobile apps to IoT (Internet of Things) projects to games to even fashion technology. “I love to see things that I would never have thought about.”

Read the full profile on Christelle Scharff, PhD
Pace University Dyson Professor and Biology Department Chairperson Marcy Kelly, PhD

Marcy Kelly

The Innovative Educator

Dyson Professor and Biology Department Chairperson Marcy Kelly, PhD, understands the necessity of commitment. As both a researcher and educator, she has often eschewed short-term solutions for effectiveness over the long-term, enabling her to properly analyze important scientific questions for students and colleagues to become both effective scientists and analytical thinkers.

Knowing that valuable scientific breakthroughs don’t happen overnight; Kelly has been studying the immune response with the organism that causes tuberculosis since her graduate school days. While tuberculosis is not often considered an immediate problem in the developed world, it is in fact one of our planet’s most widespread diseases, and there is still much to be learned in order to find a long-term cure. Kelly’s work is necessary in helping to inform vaccine development over the long-term.

“One third of the world’s population is infected with Mycobacterium tuberculosis, and, of those infected, half are infected with a multi-drug resistant strain,” said Kelly. “My work in understanding the interaction between the organism and the immune response will inform vaccine development to prevent the disease and antibacterial development to treat the disease.”

Read the full profile on Marcy Kelly

JaimeLee Rizzo, PhD

The Organophiles Organizer

Since my undergraduate research days, my work has been directed towards the synthesis and investigation of antimicrobial compounds and its applications,” says JaimeLee Rizzo, PhD, assistant chair and professor of Dyson’s Department of Chemistry and Physical Sciences. She’s also the Director of Chemical Design and Synthesis for a biotechnology company that provides sustainable, eco-friendly solutions for foodborne, waterborne, and environmental bacterial, fungal, and viral infections and contaminations.

“In the past five years we have turned our direction to the development of antimicrobial formulations which utilize naturally derived materials and plant sources,” she explains. Applications for these novel formulations include use as wound dressings, ointments, and body creams. “We are working with a company to patent and manufacture this work,” says Rizzo. “This is an exciting time for us!”

Read the full profile on JaimeLee Rizzo, PhD

Lauren Birney, EdD

The Marine Maven

Creating opportunities for underrepresented students and women is the primary focus of my research,” Lauren Birney, EdD, told us. She’s an associate professor of STEM education, and she’s been putting her experience to incredible use. Birney is co-leading a powerhouse group of collaborators to build upon the New York Harbor School’s project to put science into the hands (quite literally) of middle school students in low-income neighborhoods with high populations of English language learners and students from groups underrepresented in STEM. “I was so very fortunate to be surrounded by incredibly talented professors, teachers, and mentors,” she explained. “I just want to do the same.”

Read the full profile on Lauren Birney, EdD