Propelling Women in Power Podcast

Propelling Women In Power Podcast logo on the right with a picture of Michelle Chung (left) Mary Riker (middle) with guest Becky Larson (right) on the right

Women are integral members of the energy science community and play an enormous role in developing an inclusive, equitable, and sustainable future for the field of energy.  From nuclear engineers to atmospheric scientists to ecological researchers, they inspire and empower their coworkers and mentees to break the glass ceiling while contributing to these ever-growing fields of discovery.

Hosted by Wisconsin Energy Institute communications specialist Michelle Chung and undergraduate communications intern Mary Riker, Propelling Women in Power is a podcast about the careers of women in energy at the Wisconsin Energy Institute on the UW–Madison campus and our sister institution, the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center.  It is our goal to highlight their individual experiences, mentors, and work-life balance, while seeking advice for young women in science and asking the question: “Who and what facilitated your success?”

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Data, Democracy, and Determination with Kaiping Chen

Kaiping Chen, Assistant Professor in Life Sciences Communication at UW–Madison, takes us through her journey, from exploring political science to diving into the computational methods that drive her communications research. Through her community engagement work, she seeks to connect data science, democratic theory, and human-computer interactions to find out how to empower people, especially those who are underserved, to participate in environmental policymaking.

Linking the Little Things with Whitney Loo

Whether it's unraveling the mysteries of newly synthesized polymers on a microscopic level or finding order amidst the chaos of a busy life, Whitney Loo is always finding ways to integrate the macroscopic with the microscopic. With a passion for discovery, Whitney, an assistant professor of chemical biological engineering at UW–Madison, guides us through her personal journey, offering a glimpse into the complexities of navigating the role of a new professor.

Optimization and Optimism with Aurora Munguía López

In this episode, we talked to Aurora Munguía López, a postdoctoral researcher in Zavalab in the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering at UW-Madison. Aurora takes us on a journey through her career in science, starting with the professor who first sparked her interest in chemical engineering. She discusses her work in optimization research and how it led her to focus on finding ways to optimize systems for the benefit of the environment, economy, and people. 

The Reed that Bends with Joy Altwies

Joy Altwies, PhD, PE, LEED AP+, program director at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Office of Interdisciplinary Professional Programs, has been at the forefront of the sustainable construction field. In this episode, she shares valuable insights on navigating both industry and academia, building a strong network, staying flexible in tough situations, and what we can do to invite more girls into engineering.

Pressure vs. Purpose with Mallory Spencer

Mallory Spencer, graduate student in the Thomas Lab at UW–Madison, takes us on her journey through STEM, how her undergraduate internship at the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center sparked her passion for exploring the bioproduct-making potential of microbes, leading her to pursue a Masters Degree in Bacteriology. Mallory candidly shares the pressure she faced to pursue a PhD and how self-reflection guided her decision to pursue a Masters instead. 

Just Keep Going with Becky Larson

Rebecca Larson, extension specialist and Associate Professor in the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies at UW–Madison, dives into the power of failure and the path to a more equitable future in STEM. As a woman in STEM, she details her experiences with adversity and optimism, and how she has learned to strike the right balance between the two as the faculty director of the Women in Science and Engineering Program. 

From Curiosity to Connection with Sarynna Lopez-Meza

What comes to mind when you think about curiosity? For Sarynna Lopez-Meza, Research Coordinator at the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center, her curiosity is what guided her through her career. With the curiosity to connect different labs, researchers, and institutions, she shows how science is all about the people.

Systems of Support with Rebecca Ong

Rebecca (Becky) Ong, Director of Graduate Programs and Associate Professor of Chemical Engineering at Michigan Technological University shares her journey from her childhood love of plants to her groundbreaking research converting them into biofuels. She enlightens us with valuable insights on how academia can better support and empower women in STEM and how access to STEM education and representation should start in early childhood.

Breaking Barriers to Building Bridges with Cheyenne Lei

Rock-licking teen to two-time All American track athlete to albedo investigator. Cheyenne Lei, Great Lakes Bioenergy researcher, shares how her path as an international student-athlete combined with her passion for field research and mentorship led her to a Ph.D. in geography at Michigan State University.

Paving Paths to Power with Anne-Sophie Bohrer

How do you stay resilient? From learning to cope with the stress of being an immigrant and mom to dealing with the exclusivity of academia, Anne-Sophie Bohrer has been learning how to build resilience since the beginning of her career. She gives us a glimpse into what that journey looked like from her time at the bench to finding her way to another calling, science support. She shares how she was able to find her power, what she’s learned engaging in DEI work and her work helping pave others' paths in STEM as the Training Coordinator at the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center.

Uniting Their Stories: Season 1 Highlights

In this short recap of Propelling Women In Power Season 1, we unite the highlights from our conversations with ten amazing women in energy science, who range from nuclear scientists to science communication leaders to microbiological problem-solvers and beyond. Here, we take a look back at their challenges, solutions, and advice to young women in science.

Pruning Priorities with Ashley Shade

What do we prune to stay aligned with our values, families, and careers? Today, Ashley Shade, Michigan State University Professor of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics and Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center scientist, shares how balancing a career and motherhood requires daily pruning and sacrifice. Shade explains the myth of “having it all” as a woman in work, citing a lack of institutional support and her own experience as a mother in STEM. Finally, she shares the lessons she learned about prioritizing values on her path to unlocking the potential of microbial communities.

Growth Through Uncertainty with Audrey Gasch

What happens when we get comfortable with uncertainty? Today, we talked to Audrey Gasch, professor of genetics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center scientist, about all the factors that propelled her from an undergraduate studying biochemistry at UW-Madison to the leader of the Center for Genomic Science Innovation. She shares key lessons she learned from her own mentors, her philosophy of growth mindset, and her advice on getting comfortable with being uncomfortable.

Redefining Balance with Natalia De Leon

What decisions will you make today? How do you decide what to do and not do? This week, Natalia De Leon, professor of Agronomy at the University of Wisconsin–Madison in the College of Agricultural & Life Sciences and Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center researcher, talks about her decision-making process to find balance everyday as a scientist, mother, and mentor. De Leon shares how she fostered her love for plants, people, and field and lab work through her collaborative research in plant breeding and genetics. Finally, De Leon gives us insights on how she creates the space for herself and others to be the best scientists they can.

Nice People with S. Carolina Córdova

If you've spent a minute with Carolina Córdova, you've potentially made a friend for life. That's how it is with some people - you just click. Córdova, assistant professor of agronomy and horticulture and the University of Nebraska–Lincoln and former Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center postdoctoral researcher, shares her adventures in academic research dealing with the friendly and, occasionally, not-so-friendly on her path to becoming a leader in the soil sciences. She also discusses her hands-on approach to mentorship, both on and off the field.

Mountains and Molehills with Tracey Holloway

How do we take on big challenges, like increasing representation of women in STEM? This week, Tracey Holloway, Gaylord Nelson Distinguished Professor of Environmental Studies & Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, shows us how to conquer the highest peaks by taking on each little hill at a time. Holloway shares her experiences in studying the earth from space with NASA, writing down unwritten rules for others to follow, and her own choices as a professor, mother, and mentor. Finally, Holloway also touches on her roles with the Earth Science Women's Network and Science Moms, just two vehicles she uses to build communities that can move mountains together.

Give a Little Bit with Adrianna Trusiak

What happens when the thing you thought you wanted turns out to be different than what you expected? This week, Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center Research Coordinator Adrianna Trusiak talks about the pressures of grad school and the tough choices she made to shift her career path. Trusiak also gives us some insight on how following her passions led towards a job that accentuates a value she comes back to several times in the course of our talk with her: the importance of building meaningful relationships in work and play.

The Fig Tree with Stephanie McFarlane

How do we choose our path when the tree of life bears more fruit than we can feast on? How can we live without fear that our unchosen, yet still desired, fruits will not wither as we can only harvest a few? Today, Stephanie McFarlane, a graduate student in Ellen Damschen's lab at the University of Wisconsin–Madison's Department of Integrative Biology, mother of three, and mentor to multiple undergraduate students, shares how her perspective on choosing the fruits on her own personal tree of life has changed with each choice and subsequent branch. As a first-generation college student fueled by a passion for plants, she shares her journey of restarting her PhD and finding balance as a research, mentor, and mother.

She gives us her insights on the changes that can be made to build a more diverse community of scientists and how in doing so we can make our science stronger and better. McFarlane speaks to us from an extra special perspective as the research mentor of co-host Michelle Chung.

Chocolate Cake with Dominique Brossard

How do we have conversations about the things that matter to us with people with whom we disagree? Where do we find common ground? And how do we make decisions about our future that reflects on those difficult challenges while moving society forward? Today, Dominique Brossard, professor and chair of the department of life sciences communication at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, gives us a glimpse into the science behind finding common ground with a perfect analogy: chocolate cake.

Brossard talks about how her own journey inspired her to look into how we can understand different worldviews and offers advice on how to build a diverse community of scientists from her own perspective as a woman in STEM at the top of her field.

You're Part of the Family with Yiying Xiong

What does it mean to foster an environment that truly feels welcoming? For Yiying Xiong, associate director of the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center, it all comes down to treating a team of coworkers like they are part of a family. Xiong spoke with us about her experiences nurturing communities in the hydropower industry and now in academic research. She also reveals two factors she thinks make a successful leader – self-confidence and mentorship – and how she found both. 

Fusing STEM Communities with Stephanie Diem

Today's guest, Stephanie Diem, assistant professor of engineering physics, is at the forefront of fusion energy research at the UW–Madison. While she uncovers the clues to turning this technology into a viable supply for society’s energy needs, she’s working on ways people like her - women in the nuclear energy research – can sustain themselves, and grow to constitute more than just the current 10% of the field.