Why is increasing diversity among scientists, mathematicians and engineers important, and how can it be done? Lydia Villa-Komaroff, a distinguished scientist and businesswoman, will address these questions on Monday, Sept. 16, at 7 p.m. in the Gund Gallery’s Community Foundation Theater. Her address serves as the keynote speech for the opening of Latinx Heritage Month events at Kenyon and is part of a yearlong celebration of the 50th anniversary of women at Kenyon.
In her address, titled “Intersections of Science, Business and Diversity,” Villa-Komaroff will share her journey to becoming one of the first Mexican-American women to earn a doctoral degree in the sciences in the U.S. A longtime advocate of increasing diversity in STEM fields, Villa-Komaroff was motivated by her experiences to co-found SACNAS, the Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science, in 1973. The organization now has more than 6,000 members and 115 chapters, including one at Kenyon.
“I was almost done with graduate school before I met scientists of colour whom I could look to as mentors,” she told VICE in a 2017 interview.
Villa-Komaroff also will share her experience as a researcher on the forefront of the recombinant DNA revolution; early in her career, she energized this revolution with a groundbreaking paper that explained how bacteria could produce insulin.
“Dr. Villa-Komaroff’s accomplishments range from pioneering science and leadership in private sector research to leading social change in the sciences in this country. Her visit promises to connect with so many communities and will inform the many ongoing conversations about how to make Kenyon a more inclusive place to study and work,” said Professor of Chemistry John Hofferberth, director of Kenyon’s Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) Inclusive Excellence Initiatives, which co-sponsored Villa-Komaroff’s visit. The HHMI program, facilitated through a $1 million grant announced in 2017, builds on Kenyon’s efforts to break down institutional barriers to inclusion of underrepresented students.
Villa-Komaroff earned a bachelor’s degree in biology from Goucher College and a doctorate in cell biology from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She has held faculty positions at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center and Harvard University as well as administrative leadership positions at Northwestern University and the Whitehead Institute. Villa-Komaroff also has served on the boards of several biotechnology companies. Her numerous accolades include membership in the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the Association for Women in Science. She has earned induction into the Hispanic Engineer National Achievement Awards Conference Hall of Fame and a Woman of Distinction Award from the American Association of University Women.