Women's History Month: Ways Female Scientists at UC Impact Their Fields

"Girl Power” is here to stay, with more women at the forefront of business, education and government than ever.

But the positive evolution of the role women play in our society didn’t happen overnight, and we still have strides to make.

The same is true for female scientists who remain underrepresented in the science and engineering workforce, with the greatest disparities occurring in engineering, computer science and the physical sciences, according to the National Science Foundation (NSF).

The University of Cincinnati, however, boasts many influential female thought leaders who have contributed to science and medicine and have paved the way for researchers of today and tomorrow.

Candice Carpenter, the fourth-year UC College of Medicine student who recently participated in the 2016 Match Day and will be a neurosurgery resident this summer at Ohio State University, is an example of the bright future ahead.

"Her interest in the neurosciences continues to drive her commitment to success in medicine and her readiness to make an enduring impact on the lives she touches,” said Mia Mallory, MD, associate dean for diversity and inclusion in the College of Medicine, when discussing about Carpenter. "She works hard now because she wants to not because she has to. I have no doubt that she will be one of a few female African-American neurosurgeons in the nation.”

In honor of Women’s History Month, we remember a few and recognize the female scientists now who are making their own mark on the field.

Winona Lee Hawthorne Buck

While perhaps not a scientist, Winona Lee Hawthorne certainly made her mark on history as the first woman to ever earn a degree from UC in 1878. Eight students were involved in a June 20 commencement ceremony held at Pike’s Opera House, and each graduate was required to read a baccalaureate essay. Her essay was a "Plea for the Classics.” 

Three years later, she married a young Army lieutenant named William Langdon Buck and spent the next three decades raising three daughters—Winona, Louise and Leroy—in locations throughout the United States as her husband was promoted to the rank of colonel. 

Experiencing chronic illness after service in the Philippines during the War with Spain, Col. Buck died in 1912, after which Winona moved to San Diego. She died in March 1933 at the age of 78.

Unfortunately, the university has never been able to obtain a photo of her, so the mystery remains surrounding the appearance of this trailblazer.

>> More on Winona 

The Braun Sisters

Emma "Lucy” Braun earned her bachelor’s (A&S, 1910), master’s (A&S, 1912) and doctoral degrees (A&S, 1914) from UC. She became an assistant in teaching both geology and biology and eventually ecology at the UC, but retired in 1948 to focus on her research. 

Her sister Annette, who was an entomologist focusing on the study of moths, was the first woman in the history of UC to earn her PhD in 1911. Lucy and Annette conducted extensive field studies together, and in the 1930s  traveled the East Coast via car, studying the environment. The sisters set up a laboratory and experimental garden at their shared home. Lucy became one of the nation’s most respected botanists after writing her groundbreaking book on ecology, "The Eastern Deciduous Forest,” in 1950.

As children, Lucy was the favored child and was always dressed in pink, while Annette was always dressed in blue. Lucy was the first to die in 1971, and when Annette died 7 years later, she was buried in a pink dress. (Legendary Locals of Cincinnati, by Kevin Grace, Arcadia Publishing)

>> More on Lucy

Evelyn Hess

Evelyn Hess, MD, an internationally known pioneer at UC in studying and treating diseases of the immune system including AIDS and lupus, founded the division of immunology, rheumatology and allergy at UC’s College of Medicine in 1964. 

Hess earned her medical degree from University College in Dublin at a time when women in medical school were rare. She served internships and residences in several London teaching hospitals and had a research fellowship in the epidemiology of tuberculosis. She finished fellowships in rheumatology at the Royal Free Hospital and Medical School and at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School.

In 1964, while still in Texas, UC recruited her to start a division of immunology, rheumatology and allergy, which she led for 31 years, building an organization that excelled in research, teaching and clinical care. She trained and mentored more than 70 rheumatology fellows who went on to success in academia, clinical practice and the pharmaceutical industry.

Hess received a number of professional honors throughout her career, and served as inspiration for others; in 2005, the Lupus Foundation of America established the Evelyn V. Hess MD Research Award. Presented at the annual meeting of the American College of Rheumatology, the award honors researchers whose life's work has significantly advanced understanding of the causes and treatment of lupus. In 2007, the Ohio Chapter of the American College of Physicians awarded the first Evelyn V. Hess Master Teacher Award to physician teachers. In 2009, the UC College of Medicine established the Evelyn V. Hess Chair for Lupus Research.

Hess died on Christmas Day 2015 at the age of 90.

>> More on Evelyn 

Marilyn Hughes Gaston 

Marilyn Hughes Gaston, MD, a 1964 graduate of UC’s College of Medicine, pioneered the study and treatment of sickle cell disease.

She faced poverty and prejudice as a young student but was determined to become a physician, and dedicated her career to medical care for poor and minority families and campaigns for health care equality for all Americans. Her 1986 study of sickle cell disease led to a nationwide screening program to test newborns for immediate treatment, and she was the first African-American woman to direct a public health service bureau—the Bureau of Primary Health Care in the United States Department of Health and Human Services.

By the time she was 9 years old, Marilyn Hughes knew she wanted to be a doctor and went on to study zoology at Miami University. When she graduated in 1960, she enrolled at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine. When she began medical school, she was one of only six women and the only African-American woman in her class.

Gaston first became interested in the problems of children with sickle cell disease during her internship at Philadelphia General Hospital in 1964. After admitting a baby with a badly swollen hand for which she could not determine the cause of swelling, her supervising resident suggested she check the blood work for evidence of sickle cell disease. The child did have sickle cell, his hand was swollen from infection. She secured federal grants to study the disease in children and established protocols for routine screening for the disease. In 1976, she began a long association with the National Institutes for Health as a medical expert, and later, as deputy branch chief of the Sickle Cell Disease Branch.

In 1986, she published the results of a national study that proved the effectiveness of giving sickle cell disease children long-term penicillin treatment to prevent septic infections. 

>> More on Marilyn

Women Scientists of Now

These women paved the way for current UC investigators in the fields of science, technology, math and medicine, or STEMM.  Elke Buschbeck, PhD, a professor of biological sciences, discovered bugs with bifocals—the extremely rapid eye growth of the Sunburst Diving Beetle which occurs during the transitions between larval stages. Buschbeck, who has been funded by the NSF for her work since 2002, also regularly collaborates with the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden. She contributed to a graphical display that was posted at the zoo’s beetle exhibition, highlighting her research findings on the beetle larval eyes. 

"My research is driven by a deep interest in how other organisms perceive the world and how their sensory systems have evolved to adjust to specific needs,” she says of her work.

In medicine, Cardiovascular Health and Diseases Professor Christy Holland’s "bubbles,” which involve the use of liposomes (bubbles) and ultrasound for stroke therapy, are used to break up blood clots or to deliver therapeutics—like tPA—directly to the clot. 

"By exposing liposomes filled with drugs and bubbles to a sound wave in a targeted area of the body, the drug is released exactly where it is needed, and the bubble activity accelerates uptake of the therapeutic,” explains Holland, PhD, also a director of the Ultrasound Image Guided Therapeutics Lab and director of Research for UC Heart, Lung and Vascular Institute. "Using ultrasound and molecularly targeted agents, we may be able to deliver targeted therapies in a more efficient and less invasive way.”

Holland, who completed her undergraduate degree at Wellesley College in 1983 and then went on to obtain several master's degrees and her doctorate degree in engineering and applied science at Yale University, also sees the importance of mentoring young investigators and even received the Acoustical Society of America Student Mentorship Award in 2010. She is a fellow in the organization.

There’s also the work of Yurena Yanes, PhD, an assistant professor of geology in UC’s McMicken College of Arts and Sciences, who discovered evidence suggesting natural climate change that occurred seven to six thousand years ago warmed the environment and enhanced the conditions for producing enough agriculture to help sustain the growing human population. She did this by analyzing oxygen isotope samples from the shells of ancient Moroccan snails. 

Yanes, who is from the Canary Islands and joined the UC faculty in 2013, says that understanding how organisms have responded to ecological, environmental and anthropogenic variations is critical in helping us anticipate future outcomes—"the past is the key to plan the future.”

Erin Haynes, DrPh, associate professor of Environmental Health, is the president of the newly established Women in Medicine and Science (WIMS) group in the College of Medicine which is dedicated to the recruitment, advancement and retention of all women faculty and trainees. She keeps a list of high achieving women tacked above her computer: "I had it posted up to be inspirational.” 
 
Eula Bingham, PhD, sits high on that list, an emeritus professor of the Department of Environmental Health at UC.  Bingham, under President Jimmy Carter, served as director of Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) from 1977 to 1981 and is highlighted in the U.S. Department of Labor’s history. 

Bingham, at 86 years old, still has her daughter drive her into her office in Kettering laboratory.

"No story about UC women is complete without Eula—being part of a national cabinet, a presidential office,” says Haynes. 

Shuk-mei Ho, PhD, Jacob G. Schmidlapp Professor & Chair of Environmental Health and director of the Cincinnati Cancer Center, was the first permanent female chair to be named at the College of Medicine in 2005. Her research which focuses on the interplay between genomics/epigenomics and lifestyle/environmental factors to cancer—particularly prostate cancer, ovarian cancer and breast cancer— is nationally and internationally recognized for her creativity and innovation. She’s won numerous awards for both her scientific contributions and her mentorship.

"At this stage of my career, I have the experience and the capital to help young talents realize their dreams,” Ho says. "My commitment toward this runs deeper than the Kali Gandaki Gorge in the Himalayas. These researchers are our future.”

Additional reporting and contributions by Alison Sampson, Cedric Ricks, Dawn Fuller and Melanie Schefft.