The impact of the recent COVID-19 global pandemic has given us all a renewed appreciation for those working in the science and technology fields. It’s their discoveries that will one day lead to a vaccine and continue to help us navigate the new daily routine we’ve found ourselves in these past few months. Whether it be the tech needed to operate your work-from-home conference call, the code required to ring up your online grocery order or the algorithm used to expertly curate the list of shows you should binge watch, we’ve all benefited from the efforts of these genius creators. But how many of those brilliant minds belong to women?
In an era when women are increasingly prominent in the legal and business workforce, there continues to be a lack of gender diversity in the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields. It should come as no surprise, however, that the women of the Junior League of New Orleans (JLNO) are doing their part to bridge the STEM gender gap here in the Crescent City.
JLNO Active member Robin Beducian graduated from Washington and Lee University with a Bachelor of Science in neuroscience. She attended Louisiana State University Medical School and completed her Neurology Residency and Epilepsy Fellowship at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. Robin embarked on her neuroscience career path after participating in a course on brain and behavior during a high school summer enrichment program. “I ended up falling in love with both the university and neuroscience,” she says. She was inspired by the works of V.S. Ramachandran and Oliver Sacks, but her passion for medicine stems back to her childhood. Her father is a physician and used to take her along for rounds in the hospital. “The rapport he had with his patients inspired me to become a physician at a very young age.”
For Robin, no two days are alike. She could work from eight to five seeing patients at a regular clinic, or she could be on call and taking care of patients who are hospitalized. Her role as an epileptologist requires her to read EEGs (a test monitoring electrical activity in the brain) in order to plan and guide surgeries that will prevent epileptic seizures in her patients. Robin recently became the Associate Program Director of the Ochsner Neurology Residency Program and is now directly responsible for guiding and teaching physician trainees as well.
Robin believes gender-specific definitions of success account for the lack of women in STEM. She confesses that working as a physician while trying to be the ideal wife and mother is daunting. Nevertheless, Robin encourages young girls to enter the field by inviting them to shadow her in the hospital.
Choosing a career in STEM has proven to be a lucrative path for Provisional JLNO member Jayda Malveaux, having already resulted in high-level projects and career advancement. She graduated from Louisiana State University in industrial engineering, yet despite her degree, she still feels pressure to prove she is capable of excelling at the same difficult tasks as her male counterparts. Jayda had never met a female engineer before college, an experience she hopes to eliminate for the next generation of young girls in New Orleans. Jayda points out, “Whether it be through mentoring, tutoring or simple presentations, I love the idea of simply letting girls know that you too can be an engineer, scientist or mathematician.”
On a typical day, Jayda checks and analyzes service scores to locate possible failures. She then coordinates with plant employees to improve processes and avoid future mistakes, sharing her findings with other plants if necessary. Professionally, Jayda is most proud of her recent installation of robotic systems for the United States Postal Service Processing & Distribution Center that lift and sort materials so the employees can spend their time more efficiently.
Kristen A. Rivero
An Active member of the JLNO, Kristen A. Rivero is the first female chief chemist at the Jefferson Parish Water Quality Laboratory. Kristen graduated from Loyola University with a Bachelor’s degree in chemistry and the University of Florida with a Master’s degree in drug chemistry. Her high school chemistry teacher inspired her by introducing the properties of different elements used to make fireworks. “I had never considered that chemistry was responsible for the stunning colors and patterns we see in the sky,” she says. Then, in college, she and other students synthesized acetylsalicylic acid, commonly known as aspirin, for a lab project. “It was an eye-opening experiment that demonstrated how much chemistry impacts our daily lives.” But it was her internship with the New Orleans Police Department crime lab that really ignited a flame inside her. It was the first time she had considered the application of chemistry in a career path outside a clinical or medical setting.
Kristen often finds herself as the only woman participating in technical meetings or planning sessions at work. Like her peers, Kristen had not met female scientists before college. She wants to serve as an example to inspire and support future female leaders, demonstrating this profession is both accepted and accessible for women. During tours of her plant, Kristen encourages questions and explains the education necessary to run the facility. She finds that assisting girls with science projects in her lab, “inspires confident and independent thinking. Big ideas need to be cultivated for them to grow into great accomplishments.”
Each day, Kristen monitors all of the water treatment plants, running necessary reports and reviewing data before troubleshooting other issues that arise, from a malfunctioning instrument to a customer’s water quality issue. Most recently, Kristen has been working with a group of engineers to design a new laboratory, consolidating operations into one state of the art facility. “Jefferson Parish is ready to usher in a new era of scientific advancement in the field of water analysis, and I am extremely proud to be a part of that vision,” she says.
Halle Briede, Daughter of Christine Briede
Sustainer Christine Briede has been a member of JLNO since 1999 and is the proud mother of a young woman in STEM. Her daughter, Halle, is currently enrolled in the Construction Management program at Louisiana State University where women make up less than one fifth of the class. “The construction industry is heavily dominated by men,” Christine says, “and [Halle] is afraid of not being taken seriously.” Halle has found that while LSU faculty and staff are extremely supportive, her male classmates and colleagues are not as receptive. However, attending an all-girls Catholic high school provided Halle with many female mentors and teachers. “At St. Mary’s Dominican High School, the young women are highly encouraged to pursue a career in the STEM field,” she says.
Christine insists that innovation in STEM requires both men and women. “Without one gender, we will be stagnant,” she says. The success of her daughter and other JLNO women in STEM ensures a bright future for the field.