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Success & Impact

Three Former McNulty Scholars Share How the Prestigious Program Impacted Their Lives

A recent gift to the SOAR campaign from the McNulty Foundation means more opportunities for more women in STEM. Previous McNulty Scholars are a testament to why that matters.

This year's McNulty scholars pose for a photo The alumnae offer their advice to future generations of STEM majors, like the 2022-2023 class of McNulty Scholars pictured here at the John P. McNulty Program reception on Sept. 13, 2022.

Written by: A.J. Litchfield

Published: September 29, 2022

Total reading time: 7 minutes

Since 2009, the John P. and Anne Welsh McNulty Foundation and Saint Joseph’s University have partnered together to tackle the important issue of increasing the number of women in STEM, while simultaneously bolstering the representation of women in leadership positions within the field.

In the 13 years since the John P. McNulty Program for Leadership in Science and Mathematics was formed, 111 women have had their lives transformed by the opportunity and experience that the program offers. Now, thanks to a further $2.6 million investment on behalf of the McNulty Foundation, the program will scale the offerings to reach even more women over the next seven years, while focusing more deeply on preparing and nurturing women’s leadership in STEM.

The impact of this investment will be far-reaching and immediate. Three recent McNulty scholars are already reaping the rewards of their time in the program. They shared their experience in the program, what it means to them to increase the representation of women in STEM, and advice for young women with aspirations in the field.

Elise Brutschea '19

Elise Brutschea '19, PhD

  • Name: Elise Brutschea '19
  • SJU Major(s): Chemistry
  • Current Occupation/Grad Program: PhD candidate in physical chemistry at Harvard University
  • Elevator Pitch of Your Job/Research Pursuits: I study quantum optoelectronics of two-dimensional transition metal dichalcogenides in Hongkun Park’s lab. We can exfoliate and isolate single atomic layers of these semiconductor materials from layered three-dimensional bulk crystals. In these atomically thin materials, electrons are confined in one dimension. Electrons, when confined to such small-length scales, exhibit unique properties. These properties allow us to study novel states of matter for developing the potential to further miniaturize electronics and optoelectronics, as well as to study optoelectronic quantum phenomena in two-dimensions for applications in quantum technologies.
  • Proudest Accomplishment: My proudest accomplishments thus far have been my contributions to research in my graduate lab. Proposing research ideas, making and measuring complicated devices, analyzing data from experiments and communicating results are all accomplishments that I am proud of.
  • Favorite Part of Being a McNulty Scholar: Mentorship has been integral to my success in science. The McNulty Program assigned me with a faculty mentor, Dr. Peter Graham, as a first-year student, and a research mentor during the summer after my first-year, Dr. Mark Forman. Additionally, through being part of the McNulty Scholars Program, I found mentors in Dr. Paul Angiolillo, Dr. Jose Cerda and Dr. Jean Smolen throughout my four undergraduate years. Their mentorship guided me through choosing classes and deciding to pursue summer research, as well as applying to graduate programs, external scholarships and graduate research fellowships. Without their mentorship, I would not have found my passion for science research. Also, without the various research and scholarly opportunities my mentorships provided, I would not have been as well prepared for graduate school at Harvard.
  • What does it mean to you to be part of the movement to increase the representation of women in STEM: As a scientist, there are many male role models throughout history, in academia and in the popular media. As a high school student, I was inspired by the few historical female role models in science, including Marie Curie and Rosalind Franklin. Their contributions to science were groundbreaking, despite the adversity they faced as women in a male-dominated field. I hope to one day be a role model for young girls and to encourage them to pursue their passions like I have.
  • What are your long-term career goals and how has the McNulty program put you in the position to achieve those goals: The McNulty program afforded me the opportunity to pursue research while an undergraduate student. Owing to these research opportunities, I have found my passion for research. My long-term career goal is to continue to pursue scientific research in a collaborative environment that values diversity and inclusion.
  • Advice for Females in STEM Fields: My advice is for other women to surround themselves with advocates of women in STEM. Despite being in a lab that is mostly men, I have been successful because my coworkers and research advisor are advocates for me. I have found this support is essential!

Sarah Cooney, PhD '17

Sarah Cooney '17, PhD

  • Name: Sarah Cooney, PhD '17
  • SJU Major(s): Mathematics and Computer Science
  • Current Occupation/Grad Program: Got my PhD in computer science from the University of Southern California in May and am now back in the area working as an Assistant Professor of Computer Science at Villanova University!
  • Elevator Pitch of Your Job/Research Pursuits: My research is in a sub-field called Sustainable Human-Computer Interaction (SHCI). It's a very interdisciplinary subfield that looks at how technology can play a role in helping both systems and individuals more access to sustainable choices. I love that I get to pursue research in computer science that also brings in many of the other disciplines I was able to have exposure to during my liberal arts education at SJU.
  • Proudest Accomplishment: Completing my PhD!
  • Favorite Part of Being a McNulty Scholar: 100% the amazing community of supportive women!
  • What does it mean to you to be part of the movement to increase the representation of women in STEM: It means staying involved in efforts and groups working toward this representation, particularly in computer science. I was involved in two such groups in graduate school and am looking at how to continue being involved in these efforts at Villanova. It's also about making sure my classroom is a place that is welcoming and encouraging to folks of all identities, especially those that are underrepresented in computer science.
  • What are your long-term career goals and how has the McNulty program put you in the position to achieve those goals: My long-term career goals are to spend a long career educating students and pursuing research at Villanova. The McNulty program helped me to understand what it really means to be part of a supportive community and how much that can really help you thrive, and it led me to seek out these communities both as a graduate student and during my job search.
  • Advice for Females in STEM Fields: I'll reiterate the importance of a supportive community! The McNulty program is one amazing example, but there are others out there and they can truly be instrumental in your journey, whether that is in graduate/professional school or a career. Don't be afraid to be part of starting these communities either!

Karen Medina '17

Karen Medina '17, PhD

  • Name: Karen Medina '17
  • SJU Major: Environmental Science
  • Current Occupation: Education Manager at Jubilee Park and Community Center in Dallas, Texas
  • Elevator Pitch of Your Job: I manage out-of-school-time programs at Jubilee Park and Community Center for students in the Dallas Independent School District and different charter schools in grades K-12. Our programs take a holistic approach to educating children in the community with programs offered from birth through 12th grade. These programs offer a safe, loving and nurturing environment where students are encouraged to improve their academic performance, learn important life skills, express themselves creatively, develop their unique talents and increase knowledge through new experiences. Our afterschool and summer programs focus on math and english tutoring, enrichment and exposure through diverse STEM programs and college and career readiness/development for our students in middle school and high school.
  • Favorite Part of Being a McNulty Scholar: The opportunity to interact, learn, grow and build friendships with other women in STEM, including the great mentors that make up the program. We are able to create long-lasting bonds with other women, who empower and support each other in the STEM field and beyond.
  • What does it mean to you to be part of the movement to increase the representation of women in STEM: It means opening our way of thinking and opening paths to women in the STEM field through innovative and inclusive thoughts, plans and actions. The greater representation of women in areas of STEM practice, the more inclusive and forward thinking these areas become. It is at this point that the more truly groundbreaking innovation happens.
  • What are your long-term career goals and how has the McNulty program put you in the position to achieve those goals: I want to continue to expose students and families in underserved communities to the diverse academic opportunities the U.S. has to offer. My goal is to continue to create programs and curriculum that focus on inclusive teachings and thoughts that help underrepresented populations pursue and learn from different fields such as learning more about STEM opportunities and careers. The McNulty program gave me the opportunity to come to the U.S. to further my studies and pursue my passion for the environment. Growing up and living in Guatemala and El Salvador, it had been a goal of mine to be able to learn more about sustainability and environmental development, thanks to the McNulty program, I was able to accomplish that and so much more.
  • Advice for Females in STEM Fields: Never give up. There will be hard times, and times when you think you may want to quit, but it is worth it to keep going. If and when you find yourself going through a tough patch, reach out to your fellow women in STEM, we are here for each other!