More Women Leading, Succeeding in STEM

Test tubes

February 17, 2021

It was fitting that three alumnae, each in different stages of their careers in science and medicine, spoke with a group of female students on International Women in STEM Day.

The conversation was part of a Women in STEM Break Through panel, during Susquehanna’s annual student-alumni networking conference. Emily Leboffe ’17, JoAnn Pochekailo ’77 Suzich and Megan Janssen ’06 Schroeder discussed their experience and shared personal stories about working in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Leboffe, a third-year student pursuing family medicine at Penn State College of Medicine in Hershey, Pennsylvania, believes that Susquehanna’s biology courses prepared her well for medical school, and that a gap year helped her narrow her focus and stand out on her applications. She spent a year after college working as a patient care assistant and traveling to national parks.

“Taking a gap year helps you take a mental break, while helping you realize what you really want to do,” she said. “Spending some time working the field shows med schools that you take things seriously. It also lets you make time for things that make you happy outside of your career.”

Careers in science and medicine can be very demanding, and panelists expressed the importance of finding a work-life balance that works best for an individual’s personal and professional goals.

“Balance looks different for everyone and it will likely change throughout a person’s career,” said Schroeder, a pharmacologist for the United States Food and Drug Administration. “It’s ideal to have a flexible work-life balance, but you also need to be open and willing to make compromises, and try not to pretend that you can always do it all.”

Early throughout her career, there were times when Suzich was the only woman on her team or one of just a few working throughout the lab. After earning a doctorate in biochemistry at Purdue University, she joined MedImmune as its 13th employee and focused her research on infectious disease. The company eventually grew to 3,000 people, and Suzich led a department of 700.

In 2019, after a brief retirement, she rejoined the biotech industry as head of research at Immunocore, based in Oxford, England. She currently serves on the board of trustees for the Sabin Vaccine Institute, which makes immunizations accessible to the developing world.

Suzich and the panelists said that Susquehanna’s liberal arts learning objectives prepare students for greater success in their careers.

“A liberal arts lens gives you the ability to write and speak and comprehend other cultures,” said Suzich.

Schroeder added that communication and the ability to collaborate are invaluable skills to possess in the workplace.

When saying what makes them hopeful for the future of science and medicine, the alumnae expressed that more and more women are entering the fields and holding more leadership positions.

“More women in STEM is the trend of the future,” added Suzich.

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