Since its launch in 2015, the International Day of Women and Girls in Science seeks to achieve full and equal access to and participation in science for women and girls and further achieve gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls.
According to the United Nations, a significant gender gap has persisted throughout the years at all levels of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) disciplines all over the world. Even though women have made tremendous progress towards increasing their participation in higher education, they are still under-represented in these fields. Gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls will make a crucial contribution to the economic development of the world, and to progress across all the goals and targets of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
In celebration of International Day of Women and Girls in Science and in support of increased equity, diversity and inclusion, ACE is honored to highlight three women who are leading change to fulfill the American Council on Exercise's (ACE) mission to Get People Moving for healthier lives: Amanda Staiano, PhD; Araceli De Leon, MS; and Christine Ekeroth, MSHS.
Amanda Staiano, PhD – “Pay It Forward”
Associate Professor and Director of the Pediatric Obesity & Health Behavior Laboratory at Louisiana State University’s Pennington Biomedical Research Center
Amanda Staiano is no stranger to science – nor the importance of women in science. Her career in research was sparked by a fellow female scientist, Dr. Emily Elliott, who encouraged and offered hands-on experience with collecting data and conducting assessments. Today, Dr. Staiano pays it forward by training early career female scholars, including undergrads, grad students, and postdoc fellows, to pursue their passions and become independent, productive scientists. When they depart her lab, she always asks them to “pass it on” and mentor their own junior scientists (especially women in STEM).
For Dr. Staiano, the value of women in science is clear: “Women make up half of the population and their talent is necessary to meet the challenges and solve the big questions of our time. Gender diversity in a scientific workforce adds different perspectives, enhances creativity, provides new contexts... enables better problem solving, which in turn leads to new scientific knowledge.”
Dr. Staiano has served as the Principal Investigator for several clinical trials, including research sponsored by ACE to learn how to get more people moving. Her research has involved more than 1,500 children and adolescents. Most of her projects focused on how to get kids and their families to be more physically active, eat healthier, and attain a healthy weight. Dr. Staiano and her collaborators have helped develop and test new smartphone apps, digital games, and wearables as ways to help families meet their health goals.
To current and emerging scientists, Dr. Amanda Staiano offers the following advice:
- Be confident in your abilities
- Do not let failure stand in your way of success. There are more failures than successes in the field of science but know that failures can lead to success.
- Step outside of your comfort zone – this is where you will develop new skills and knowledge
- Be yourself – don’t be afraid to be different than others. Everyone has different interests.
Having more women at the forefront of science – and in scientific leadership positions – will inspire girls to follow this path.
Araceli De Leon by her scientific poster session in 2019.
Araceli De Leon, MS - “Crush Your Goals”
ACE Business and Career Content Manager, ACE Certified Personal Trainer and Health Coach
Since her youth, Araceli De Leon, MS, has always been interested in the intricacies that make the human body move and function. This passion led to working as an undergraduate research assistant at San Diego State University, and later earning her Master of Science degree in kinesiology. Women are important in science because everyone brings their own experiences, strengths and views into the workforce. Creating a diverse scientific population can greatly benefit society.
Today, De Leon, a Latina who is a first-generation college graduate, inspires girls and women in her professional work and personal life. From applying evidence-based research in her personal training and health coach sessions (e.g., motivational interviewing, applying the transtheoretical model of change), to using her knowledge of anatomy to create safe and effective sequencing for her yoga classes, to serving on a board of directors as a fitness and wellness expert, to encouraging young girls in her family to recognize their potential and crush their goals – De Leon is motivating generations of women to embrace science and achieve their dreams.
To current and emerging scientists, Araceli De Leon offers the following advice:
- Be a role model to the younger generation of girls and show them that they can crush their goals. Having someone who supports you in your journey is key while navigating life, school or work.
- Have an open mind and be confident in trying out new subject matters. Know that it’s okay not to like them all.
Christine Ekeroth, MSHS – Blending Curiosity, Science and Art
ACE Editor in Chief of Consumer Content in Science and Research, professional photographer
Christine Ekeroth, MSHS, describes herself as equally left- and right-brained, where the duality of her creative, artistic side and her analytical, methodical traits frequently dovetail together in a synergistic harmony. Even in her youth where her curiosity sparked her interest in science and art, her SAT scores were split equally between math and language arts, and she was both a pre-med and a writing/journalism major in college. As the current ACE Editor in Chief, the duality continues where she’s able to combine her love of science and written communication. As she sees it, “Science is simply another way to express creativity, whether you’re working to solve a problem in a lab or trying to explain research findings so people can understand and apply them to their own lives.”
When exploring and reviewing interventions to encourage increased physical activity safely, Ekeroth emphasizes that diverse researchers and individuals examined is key. Women in science provide insight and perspective to examine problems and questions from angles that might not otherwise be considered, and they help create solutions that acknowledge realities outside a lab or clinical trial. Female participation in clinical trials is just as important. Did you know that today, research studies are almost exclusively conducted with male participants? Just 6% of studies include female-only participants, even though bodies are different and results can’t always be extrapolated to women. These are just two examples of why we need more women and girls to participate in science, to help address inequities in research.
To current and emerging scientists, Christine Ekeroth offers the following advice:
- Explore your curiosity. Interests in arts, sports and imagination may lead to any number of fields, such as architecture, exercise science or video-game design, all of which use science in some way.
Ekeroth elaborates, using her perspective as a mother and working professional: "I have three daughters and, while they currently say they are not interested in science, they each possess a curiosity about the world, which may lead them to topics that use STEM in some way. People often ask me how to get into writing or editing, and I tell them to find something they’re really interested in and write about that. The same is true for science—think about what interests you, what piques your curiosity—and chances are high that science and technology will likely play a role.”