Celebrating International Women in Science Day
East Central College is celebrating Feb. 11 as International Day of Women and Girls in Science, and recognizing faculty members, students, and graduates in science-related fields.
ECC has many instructors who are helping students carve their way into a career in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) related fields.
During this year’s International Day of Women and Girls in Science, ECC is recognizing one alumna who is working toward a degree in a STEM-related field, and two alumnae who recently began promising careers in STEM fields.
Catalina Vega Hurtado graduated from ECC in 2018 with an associate of arts degree.
Today, she is a senior research associate in the Joint Genome Institute of the Lawrence National Berkeley Laboratory in Alameda County, Calif.
“In this position, I am involved in genomic technologies creating genomic libraries,” Vega Hurtado said. “I have a career position and a bright future in front of me.”
Vega Hurtado came to the United States from her home country of Colombia for an internship at the University of California, Berkeley, in the plant and microbial biology department.
She had plans to become a microbiologist.
Vega Hurtado later moved to the area and began studying at ECC.
“Although (associate of arts) was a tough path, today I know that I was in the perfect place at the perfect time because I needed to meet Dr. (Parvi) Govindaswany to be where I am today,” she said.
“Dr. Parvi saw my passion for the STEM, for the science, and for the research, and encouraged it.”
Vega Hurtado said Dr. Govindaswany connected her with Dr. Westenberg at the Missouri University of Science and Technology in Rolla.
“Dr. Parvi gave me a huge opportunity and she pointed me in the correct direction — she always encouraged me to keep it up, not to give up, to follow my dreams, and to dream high.” Vega Hurtado said.
“She taught me that if I wanted something, I was going to be able to get it, no matter how hard or how long it might take. She showed me that being a successful professor is not just being wise, but also caring about the students, and wanting the best for them.”
Vega Hurtado earned her master’s degree in environmental biology in 2020 from Missouri S&T.
“If there is someone to recognize during International Day of Women and Girls in Science, it is Dr. Parvadha Govindaswamy,” she said. She is strong, kind, an amazing professional, and a great human being, all at the same time.”
Moriah Joyce began her college career at ECC to study music. However, she shifted focus toward engineering, and today she is a project scheduler and cost controller with Ameren Missouri.
Joyce also attended Missouri S&T where she earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Engineering Management in 2019.
According to Joyce, she had many Influential instructors and advisors while at ECC who helped guide her to where she is today. Those include Linda Arrington, Sean Roberson, Dr. Matthew Monzyk, and Anne Estes.
“Each of these professors was influential in helping me succeed in my courses, as well as persevere through college,” she said.
“Linda (Arrington) convinced me that I could succeed in engineering, even though it was a struggle switching from the music side to train my brain to a different way of processing information,” Joyce added.” She was a tutor for all my math courses at ECC and made herself available at all times to help —I couldn’t have done it without her.”
She said Dr. Monzyk taught her that “excellence can be achieved and should be striven for every day.”
“I still recall his standard farewell after a long tutoring session on a Friday afternoon, after everyone else had deserted the campus,” Joyce said.
“ ‘Have a productive weekend!’ he’d say. I still strive to have that kind of dedication.”
She added that professor Roberson’s witty sense of humor, and willingness to walk her through mathematical proofs and processes after class, helped to not only survive Calculus courses, but truly learn and do well.
“Professor Estes was methodical in her teaching style and provided me a firm foundation with my Algebra classes that held me in good stead all the way through Differential Equations,” Joyce stated.
She noted that her many professors at ECC worked in the industry in which they taught, or had completed their teaching degrees, which was one of the things she loved about the College.
“The class sizes were small enough that each student had time for one-on-one interaction with their teacher when struggling with a difficult concept,” Joyce said. “I was completely prepared for the workload and level of course difficulty when I arrived at S&T. If anything, my grades improved at S&T after having been through the rigorous training I received in my courses at ECC. “
Jennifer Harrell is a 2020 graduate of ECC, as well as last year’s Outstanding Student award recipient. She said she always has had an affinity for science. She is now majoring in biological sciences with minors in chemistry, biomedical engineering and cognitive neuroscience at Missouri S&T.
“Since I was a little girl, I wanted to pursue a STEM-related subject,” Harrell said. “Specifically, I wanted to work with brains. The brain has always fascinated me.”
As she grew older, she explained, that dream grew a little more complex and she wanted to fix brains as a Neurosurgeon.
“Then I learned about mental health disorders, the stigmas associated with them, and how hard it is for people to get the right treatment for themselves,” Harrell said. “Then my dream became more focused – neuroscience, psychotropic medications, and working hard to bring awareness and remove stigmas associated with mental health disorders.
“I can happily say that I am pursuing that dream now and ECC was the catalyst that gave me the confidence to do it.”
According to Harrell, while at ECC Dr. Monzyk was instrumental in her success.
“Without his steadfast determination to help his chemistry students, I would probably have given up a long time ago,” she said.
“STEM is hard for everyone, and it takes a lot of work,” Harrell added, “Sometimes it seems impossible, but it isn’t, especially if you have a good support system.
Harrell added that Arrington was part of that support system.
“She pushed me and tutored me through my math classes, she was always a positive voice reminding me I could and would be successful,” she said.
Harrell noted that Phi Theta Kappa advisors, Dr. Wendy Pecka, Kevin Dixon, and Melanie Dixon, also were incredibly helpful.
“They all encouraged me and helped me through the disbelief in myself, the tears of calculus, and the struggles of pursuing an education while also being a mother,” she said. “There are so many more that have left an impact on me — I could go on forever.”
Now Harrell is pursuing her dream to become a research scientist focused on developing better psychotropic medications. She is working in a research lab at S&T on two separate projects and she will be presenting her project at the Missouri Academy of Science in April at Columbia College.