RIC Alum Kicks Off Celebration of Women’s History Month  

Rhode Island College kicked off Women’s History Month on Friday (March 1) with a presentation given by Maria Gomez ’92, describing the route to her successful career in science.

Gomez, who graduated from RIC with a triple major in chemistry, physics and mathematics, said that women have come a long way since she was in college.

In the late 1990s, Gomez remembers studying at the Los Alamos National Laboratories in New Mexico – one of two labs in the country where classified work is undertaken to design nuclear weapons – where she was often mistaken for an administrative assistant simply because of her gender.

Now, Gomez is an associate professor and chair of the Chemistry Department at Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, Mass., which was founded as the first college for women 175 years ago.

“One of the reasons I like working at Mount Holyoke is because I get to work with bright young women,” she said. “I would like to see more women interested in this field… [but] it’s exciting that we are getting more and more women into science.”

Gomez’s background in the sciences ties in with this year’s theme of Women’s History Month, which celebrates women in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

Her presentation, “Pathways: If Only Possible Trajectories Were Known,” connected Gomez’s research in paths of proton conduction in fuel cell materials, to her early experiences with faculty members from her college days, to several research opportunities that affected her education.

Gomez said she was interested in science from a young age, and this fascination grew as she did. One of the first people she identified with was Luke Skywalker, the character “on a journey” from Star Wars. Luke had teachers ranging from Han Solo to Yoda, and Gomez knew she needed people like this to educate her as well.

“At RIC, I met quite a few wonderful faculty members. I had a plan for what I wanted to do, and they got me to where I wanted to be, but also had me try new things along the way,” she said.

“I realized I needed a good mentor,” said Gomez. “I had to find my Jedi Master.”

She found one of her first mentors in Laura Cooley, RIC professor of chemistry, with whom she did her undergrad research.

“By treating me as a researcher from the start, Laura taught me the importance of engaging in the ideas and arguments in literature,” said Gomez. “She also showed me the value of creative thinking.”

Gomez said she now seeks to provide the same sort of mentoring to her students at Mount Holyoke. She currently has 10 undergraduate students working with her as part of an ongoing research group. Similar to RIC, the value placed on undergrad research at Mount Holyoke is high, Gomez said.

Following Gomez’s presentation was the opening of the RIC Women in STEM exhibit in the lobby of Adams Library, which will be on display through March 29. The artifacts on display illustrate STEM research and experiments conducted by women faculty from RIC’s chemistry, physics, biology, physical science and psychology departments.

Future Women’s History Month events include two brown-bag lunches where students will participate in informal discussion with RIC faculty from STEM departments about what it is like to be a woman in these fields, what is needed to get there, courses available, research opportunities and career paths. Luncheons will be held March 20 and 27 from 12:30 to 2 p.m. in Donovan Dining Center Room 202.

This event was sponsored by the Rhode Island College Lectures Committee, Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences and Adams Library.