Rachel Willand-Charnley, an assistant professor in South Dakota State University’s Department of Chemistry, Biochemistry and Physics, has contributed to a book focused on and written by women working in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
“Lessons Learned: Stories from Women Leaders in STEM” addresses the lack of women in STEM through the first-person accounts of notable women who have excelled in a range of STEM-related leadership roles.
Willand-Charnley, one of 31 women who wrote an essay for the book, is an interdisciplinary applied organic chemist and glyco-cancer immunologist. They began their work at SDSU in 2018 after doing research and scholarly work at Stanford University, University of California-Berkely, the University of Nebraska and Creighton University.
“I utilize the lens of organic chemistry to solve biological problems facing society, specifically glyco-cancer immunological problems,” Willand-Charnley explained.
Willand-Charnley will be at a book signing from 10 a.m.-noon Saturday, July 15, at The Nook, 314 Main Ave. Suite 3, in downtown Brookings.
“In the past 50 years, women in the United States have made great strides in terms of education, representing the majority of college graduates and masters-level programs today. In 2020, for the 12th straight year, women earned the majority of doctoral degrees,” said Dr. Deborah Shlian, editor of “Lessons Learned: Stories from Women Leaders in STEM.”
“However, men vastly outnumber women majoring in the STEM fields. While women make up 48% of the workforce, they hold only about 29% of positions in STEM specialties. The book’s contributors—who bucked this trend—share their personal and compelling stories, including obstacles and challenges faced in balancing work, family and personal life,” Shlian added.
Shlian, who had been following Willand-Charnley’s career, which included their time as a postdoctoral research fellow with Nobel Laureate Carolyn Bartozzi at Stanford University, approached Willand-Charnley about contributing to the new book to share one perspective as a woman in STEM. Willand-Charnley’s chapter details the challenges of being underrepresented in their field, how they dealt with it, and how it empowered them.
Despite having a successful and fulfilling career, Willand-Charnley experienced adversity multiple times as a student and scientist, something that many people have experienced before.
“For anyone pursuing a career in STEM, my message is you are not alone,” Willand-Charnley said. “Anyone who has a passion for STEM deserves to be successful. I want women in the field to continue to persevere, invest in self-validation, and if that doesn’t work, reach out to those who can help with positive reinforcement and ask for what can help you to be successful.
“Although this book focuses on women, I learned that other underrepresented populations face the same challenges,” Willand-Charnley said. “Diversity in research is imperative to our success as a scientific community and how it directly benefits society. We need to ensure that we have the conversations that promote a research community that is more inclusive and allows for greater diversity within its work. I believe my experiences will contribute to that purpose, thus we’re ensuring we produce the best solutions for society, as a collective of diverse minds.”