Women's Innovation Center

Changing the Perception of Women as Innovators With Local Outreach

Jane with Lucelle O’Flaherty, NCWI Secretary, and Jim Bruen at the March 10 Lyceum presentation.

By Jane Plitt

Alexandria, VA – Get ready, Alexandrians, to combine the ALX Dogwalk on April 20 with Discovery! Bring your kids (besides your dogs) and participate in the Dr. Gladys West GPS Challenge. (GPS is handy just in case your beloved dog isn’t a guide dog!). This enlightening opportunity is brought to you by the Alexandria-based National Center of Women’s Innovations (NCWI) and Rosy Riveters.

Look for NCWI’s table and come away with a special human treat that is not plastic, as well as a greater appreciation for the complicated mathematics Dr. West had to apply to map the world, which is squishy and not round! Our educational module will also be displayed on April 6 and June 22 as our community celebrates the 275 ALX preview and the Portside Festival. See you there!

At the City of Alexandria sponsored March 10th Lyceum talk “Forgotten Women Who Changed the World of Healthcare,” Jane Plitt shared the examples of multiple women researchers who changed our healthcare. The most powerful point was the role of collegial sharing, sometimes resulting in the success of the research, as demonstrated by Dr. Katalin Kariko, a pathblazer pursuing mRNA research who met Dr. Drew Weisman, a respected vaccine researcher, at a water fountain.

Jane Plitt and Julie Chapman, NCWI Honor Advisor member and ALX Dogwalk Chair.

Their meet-up led ultimately to their joint receipt of the 2023 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine because their work enabled the COVID-19 vaccine, saving millions of lives. However, that meet-up was happenstance and not formally encouraged by the University of Pennsylvania, which refused to give Kariko a lab, tenure, or a salary higher than $60,000.

The 2020 Nobel Prize in Chemistry went to two women, Drs. Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer Doudna, who met at a Puerto Rico cafe and started sharing their efforts in Crispr-Cas9, a method to edit DNA. Charpentier was working in Europe on noting how bacteria made molecules of RNA that recognized the genes of attacking viruses. But she needed an expert on RNA molecules, which was Doudna. By working together, these researchers have now enabled the Crisper-Cas9 technology, whose potential is to cure sick cell anemia, hereditary blindness, or other genetic diseases.

Yet, a huge fight is taking place over the patent rights between two competing groups. It’s too bad these groups don’t work together like Charpentier and Doudna did. These stories illustrate the vital need for NCWI to showcase such women and their achievements because institutional leadership often claims their work.

That’s why we are ever grateful to our amazing team of volunteers who research, promote the stories, and turn their work into STEM educational lessons. For more information, go to our Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn pages.

Mary Glerum

Former Alexandria resident Mary Glerum learned of NCWI from John Marshall’s Jen Ferrara in the spring of 2023. Mary recalls, “When Jen posted about a new Alexandria nonprofit with a dual mission to showcase forgotten women innovators and encourage youth to pursue careers in STEM, I immediately wanted to get involved.” Mary now lives in Richmond, VA, and has a 20+ year career in marketing and technology, with a daughter with career aspirations in STEM.

Mary’s experience in “all things digital” dovetailed with NCWI’s first-year needs, from generating awareness of the organization via social media to promoting NCW’s Inaugural Gala event. In addition, Mary helped with online gala ticket sales, created a social media communications calendar, and launched NCWI’s YouTube channel.

“Historically, women make up less than 20% of the tech workforce in the U.S. As I’ve been fortunate to work for innovative companies and learn from amazing leaders, I am passionate about giving back,” Mary states.

Originally from Michigan, Mary started her career at nonprofits, then transitioned into digital product management at various companies. She is the Founder & CEO of blu-M, a firm specializing in digital transformation, product creation, and technology solutions.

Says Mary, “I am proud to help NCWI showcase the forgotten accomplishments of women and inspire the next generation of women innovators.” We are ever grateful to Mary and her team. Join our team!!! [email protected] or 757-656-9870

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