With pioneers such as Ada Lovelace, credited as the world’s first computer programmer, Marie Curie, the only woman in history to earn two Nobel Prizes for science, Katherine Johnson, who was responsible for calculating trajectories and launch windows for the Apollo space mission, and many others, women have long made a strong, and significant, impact in the realm of science, technology, engineering, art, and math (STEAM).
Despite a laundry list of amazing accomplishments by women that have revolutionized the world around us, female representation in STEAM careers is disproportionately low, about 28% according to the American Association of University Women, compared to non-STEAM related fields. This fight to raise awareness and close the gender gap in some of the county’s fastest-growing and most lucrative careers is ongoing but gaining momentum as more and more women and girls are gaining exposure to the opportunities available to them.
When this glass ceiling is finally broken, it will be because of the countless women and their accomplishments who chipped away at it over time. U.S. Army Sgt. Aundrya Montgomery, the behavioral health non-commissioned officer for the Connecticut National Guard’s 118th Medical Battalion and research assistant at the University of Connecticut, is one of those women doing her part to create a more diverse, and inclusive, environment within STEM-related careers.
Montgomery and 12 other women earned top honors in their respective categories during the 16th annual Women of Innovation Awards, held digitally for the first time on Nov. 12, 2020 to comply with COVID-19 regulations. The awards are given every year to acknowledge women innovators, role models, and leaders in STEAM at the high school and collegiate levels around the state.
“Programs like Women of Innovation are so important to help create interest and encourage women to get into STEAM-related career fields,” said Kim Kinsley in an interview with News 8, WTNH. “We recognize that [Women] are underrepresented … and it’s important to try to encourage women through programs of innovation, and other ways, to ensure we get more interest from women and also young girls at an early age.”
This year, Montgomery took home the award for the Community Innovation and Leadership category for her work with bioengineering strategies for potential application toward clinical treatments for acute traumatic and chronic fingertip injuries.
“I’ve always been a [science] nerd,” said Montgomery. “I got involved in research during my undergrad years at the illustrious Alabama State University … where I looked at different nanotechnology applications geared toward prostate cancer.”
Although she is the one who gets to bring the award home, she hopes to use her newfound platform will help other young women discover and reach their potential.
“This award isn’t for me. It isn’t because of me,” Montgomery said. “This is something that, thankfully, I was blessed with and I’m honored to have this recognition but I know, growing up, I didn’t see a lot of people who looked like me in research.”
Montgomery added that she hopes that, with this award, young women will see an individual who can relate to them and she can serve them better than before. As for her own inspiration, she’s always looked up to the other women in her family who supported her and gave her the encouragement and resources she needed to follow her dreams.
“I told my granny that I wanted to be a doctor and she made sure I had all the necessary tools to make sure I would excel in elementary and high school and that drive never went away,” said Montgomery. “Even now, she passed away in August from COVID, her motivation still pushes me forward.”
This trajectory her grandmother placed her on has sent her on a journey not only to find personal success, but to lift up those around her and she’s found herself on a mission to serve her community, state, and country. In addition to serving in the National Guard, she also volunteers as the president of the Urban League of Greater Hartford Young Professionals, works on research projects alongside UConn’s Dr. Christine Fink to find bioengineer strategies for helping babies born with missing pieces of their esophagus, and works with the Connecticut Children’s Hospital’s Department of Psychology Gender Identity Program to analyze obesity trends among transgender youth.
The other winners of this year’s awards include: Sophia Wang, a student from Amity Regional High School, Wanjiku Gatheru, an undergraduate student at UConn, Susan Dougherty, a STEM and special education teacher at Stamford High School, Diane Pintavalle, a science teacher at Glastonbury High School, Maria Chrysochoou, the department head for civil and environmental engineering at UConn, Erika Smith, CEO of ReNetX Bio, Beiyan Zhou, an associate professor of immunology at the UConn Health Center, Carrie McCusker, technical lead at Sonalysts, Sarah Wojiski, the director of education and external programs at the Jackson Laboratory, Kayla Cloutier, principal research and development engineer at Medtronic, and Sonya Richmond, a boardmember of the Connecticut Invention Convention.
According to the National Science Board, the percentage of women interested in STEAM is steadily rising. When the glass ceiling finally breaks, it will be thanks to women, such as Montgomery and the other recipients of the Women in Innovation Awards, who share their enthusiasm and drive to reach for their goals with future generations. To learn more about the Women of Innovation awards, visit: ctcreates.org/women-of-innovation/