Listening to Our Community

The monthly EWIS newsletter features a scientist or organization each month in "Listening to our Community." Subscribe here with your email:

Kristina Burrack, PhD (July 2023)

Dr. Burrack is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Medicine and is an investigator at the Hennepin Healthcare Research Institute. Dr. Burrack says, “I’ve always been interested in biology and fell in love with immunology during college. I’m also passionate about global health, so I focused on investigating the immune response to pathogens of global health importance in order to develop therapies or improve vaccination strategies to decrease morbidity and mortality. My lab is currently primarily focused on investigating the immune response to malaria.” 

Dr. Burrack is currently participating in the Homeward Bound (HB) initiative which is a global, virtual leadership program that aims to give 10,000 women in STEMM by 2036 the skills and will to lead with impact and influence for the greater good. HB was founded to create a global network of women with a background in STEMM (science, technology, engineering, math, and medicine) leading and able to solve the world’s greatest challenges. Dr. Burrack’s interest in using immunology to improve and cure diseases is also linked to understanding climate change and how it will affect the evolution and spread of infectious diseases in the future. 

Dr. Burrack is in a cohort of 115 women from 18 countries, who after the year-long HB leadership training, will travel to Antarctica to learn about the impact of climate change on our world. The women of HB represent the diversity, initiative, bravery, and collaboration that is championed at Homeward Bound. 

For more information on the Homeward Bound initiative, and to donate to help Dr. Burrack with HB program tuition and travel funds, visit the following links:

Q: What does diversity, equity, and inclusion mean to you? 

A: To me, DEI work involves understanding bias in systems and individuals (including myself) in order to decrease or prevent the impact of those biases on actions and outcomes. In a practical sense, I try to create a culture in my lab - both explicitly via conversations and a lab charter and implicitly by being a role model - where everyone's voice is heard and respected, where curiosity is encouraged, diverse perspectives are cultivated, and authenticity and vulnerability are valued.

Q: How do you initiate diversity, equity, and inclusion in your laboratory, classes, committees, etc.?

A: As a woman and a mother, I'm particularly interested in empowering women, removing barriers, and improving institutional policies. I was a founding member of EWIS, and I've worked with the Lactation Advocacy Committee to improve access to lactation facilities on campus. Most recently, I joined the Salary, Resource, and Leadership Equity Action Group in the Center for Women in Medicine and Science (CWIMS) to better understand the distribution of resources across campus and advocate for increased equity. Lastly, I strive to learn how to be a better DEI advocate; the Homeward Bound leadership program will help me grow and offer opportunities to have a broader impact in the future.

Gabbi Horsford, MPH (June 2023)

Gabbi is currently the DEI coordinator for the Department of Biomedical Engineering.  Gabbi’s education started at Harvest Preparatory Academy (now Harvest Best) which is an all-Black charter school in North Minneapolis. Alongside a rigorous education, Gabbi says, “I value my time at Harvest for teaching me most if not all of the values and morals I hold today, especially the seven principles of Kwanzaa. I feel very lucky to have spent my formative years in a place where my classmates and teachers looked like me, and I'm positive those experiences helped me maintain my sense of self as I navigated predominantly white institutions (PWIs) after (PWIs) in my later years.” 

Gabbi went on to attend the College of Saint Benedict in Collegeville, Minnesota where she studied Psychology and Exercise Science. Gabbi says, “There I became more interested in politics, ethics, and societal theories. St. Ben's helped me begin to articulate my passion, which was studying the impacts of race and gender on health. This was a quick and easy segue to the School of Public Health here at the U, where I studied Community Health Promotion and Health Equity.” Gabbi completed her Master’s of Public Health with a minor in Health Equity at the UMN in Spring of 2021. During her program she helped to develop the Division of Epidemiology and Community Health’s DEI Action Team and her research projects focused on the prevention of violent encounters between police and young Black men, developing equitable alcohol policies, and analysis of Minnesota COVID-19 case data.

Q: What inspired you to become involved in DEI?

A: Probably to the chagrin of my high school teachers and coaches, I've always been one to point out unfair treatment or injustices. I never knew that what I was doing was related to DEI, I just knew I didn't enjoy being treated differently and I was going to make it someone else's problem! I became more familiar with the concepts of DEI in undergrad, and then more so during my graduate program. After the murder of George Floyd, I joined my Division's new DEI Action Team, and began to apply concepts I learned from lived experience and my education to help advocate for a more equitable future. 

Q: How has your career been enhanced by exposure to diverse people, places, or experiences? 

A: I am very thankful that I have been able to work and study in a variety of settings with people who think differently. Although not the traditional definition of diversity, studying and working in the areas of social science, health science, community research, medicine, and now engineering has helped me look at problems through different lenses. I credit much of this ability to the diversity of people that surround me in these areas, and the stories and experiences that they have taught to me. 

Q: What does diversity, equity, and inclusion mean to you? 

A: It is very important to me to think of DEI as three separate ideas, rather than lumping it all together and losing the nuances of each concept. Each term is equally as important, but I find that by centering equity, oftentimes I can ensure the other two concepts are being met. To me, equity goes hand in hand with justice, and it describes removing unfair or unjust barriers to growth and happiness. It entails constantly asking, "What factors make it difficult for a person to succeed in this environment, or what factors inhibit them from entering the space in the first place?" 

Q: How do you initiate or incorporate diversity, equity, and inclusion into your laboratory, classes, committees, etc? 

A: When I create spaces, it's very important to me that every individual not only feels heard, but feels as though their experiences and opinions are valuable, and that they are not a "guest" in the space, but the space belongs to them as much as it belongs to every other person in the room. This means bolstering those who have been implicitly taught to remain quiet or that they don't "know enough" to contribute. By creating a space that is truly community-led, I hope that each person feels safe enough to come as their true self and contribute their valuable life experiences.

Widaliz Vega-Rodriguez, PhD (April 2023)

Dr. Vega-Rodriguez is a postdoctoral research associate in the Liang/Ly laboratory on the St. Paul campus of the University of Minnesota. Dr. Vega-Rodriguez’s research focuses on developing and testing a novel live viral vector vaccine that is multivalent and cross-reactive against various human and animal diseases. She got her Bachelor of Science in Biological Sciences at the University of Puerto Rico-Aguadilla. Dr. Vega-Rodriguez says, “I was not exposed to much diversity during my undergraduate education until I was accepted into a summer research program at Purdue University. This particular program allowed minority students to do research in our areas of interest. My summer research at Purdue inspired me to pursue a career in science.” After graduating from undergraduate school, she was accepted at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, School of Veterinary Medicine, where she earned her Ph.D. in Pathobiology studying avian herpesviruses. She then made the switch from DNA viruses (herpesviruses) to studying RNA viruses (arenaviruses) for her postdoc here at the University of Minnesota.

Q: Was there anyone during your undergraduate/graduate school experience that worked to initiate diversity, equity, and inclusion in your classes or labs? If so, how?

A: Unfortunately, during my undergraduate education in Puerto Rico, no DEI initiatives were made available or incorporated into my classes or labs. However, the summer before my graduate studies, the University of Illinois offered a program for incoming graduate students from minority or underrepresented backgrounds. This program was a tool for students to learn more about potential research avenues and opportunities; it was also used for undergraduates to meet with graduate students. It was beneficial because graduate students could share their experiences and obstacles in graduate school. This program gave me an idea of what it would be like to adapt to such a big university atmosphere and how to navigate life as a grad student. It was also a great networking source, which was beneficial throughout my Ph.D. education. 

Q: What do diversity, equity, and inclusion mean to you? 

A: Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion are concepts essential to the academic and research process. It helps foster ideas that further advance an individual’s respective field of study. Everyone has a different viewpoint on any given topic, and having more voices will lead to more discovery, innovation, and advancement. Making DEI a priority ensures that we can reach goals faster and more effectively as institutions, teams, or individuals.

Q: Can you describe how your career has been enhanced by exposure to diverse people, places, or experiences? 

A: I’ve been given the opportunity to meet people from different backgrounds through research collaborations, conferences, and workshops throughout my career. These opportunities have helped me gain different perspectives, which has enabled me to become a better researcher, one that has a more open mind about her field and that seeks collaborative opportunities. 

Q: How do you think science has changed regarding diversity, equity, and inclusion over time? What benefits do you see? What do you think needs to be better (in general or at this institution)? 

A: While growing up, I would only see science in movies and tv shows but never had the chance actually to know what it was like. After graduating high school, I decided that I wanted to pursue a career as a physician or a pharmacist, which at the time, were the only scientific careers I was aware of. Scientific outreach related to DEI has changed and has become a bigger emphasis in science. Programs like the one I attended at Purdue University give students the tools that allow them to explore different areas of science and can help them find their true passions. Outreach is something that I am very passionate about, and I believe that being able to give young minds a better idea of all the different opportunities in science can help them have a better idea of who they are, what surrounds them, and what they can become. It is great to see that some universities have programs where students are able to learn more about my field and how much fun science can truly be. 

Tanya Freedman, PhD (March 2023)

Dr. Freedman is an Assistant Professor of Pharmacology housed in the Center for Immunology at the University of Minnesota (UMN). She is a member of the UMN Masonic Cancer Center's Immunology Program and the Center for Autoimmune Diseases Research. Additionally, she has professional memberships in the American Association of Immunologists, the American Association for Cancer Research, and the American College of Rheumatology. Her current research interests include myeloid cells, macrophages, Src-family kinases, ITAM, and Lyn.

Dr. Freedman earned her Bachelor of Arts from Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, and graduated Magna cum laude. At Bowdoin College, she was evenly focused on science (chemistry, biology) and music (theory, piano, flute). Dr. Freedman says, "I was first drawn into the lab when my inorganic chemistry professor invited me to spend the summer on campus doing research. I'm not sure that I had considered research as a career before that, but I was hooked—as much by the science as by participating in a lab culture, which really felt utopian to me!" She changed her major from Chemistry to Biochemistry after an inspiring Comparative Physiology class taught by an amazing professor (and fellow musician in the college orchestra!). After summers of research and an honors project, she was determined to pursue a Ph.D. Still, she wanted to do research in a laboratory with postdocs and explore the field of biophysics. 

After graduating from Bowdoin College, she took a job at the Boston Biomedical Research Institute, which included a research supergroup that specialized in the regulation of muscle proteins. From "rabbit meatballs" sent from the eye research group (within the same building), Dr. Freedman would purify actin, troponin, myosin, and tropomyosin to study how they changed shape during their regulatory cycle. From there, she applied to Ph.D. programs. She ended up working jointly in two laboratories studying structural biology and protein folding at the University of California, Berkeley. Dr. Freedman says, "My thesis idea (partial unfolding of signaling proteins as a mode of regulation) spanned the interests of both research groups, but my project in the end centered on allosteric activation of proteins in the Ras pathway. The best structural biologists I knew (including my advisor) asked the most insightful biological/functional questions—this motivated me to pivot to immunology for my postdoctoral research. My original idea was to bring this biological insight back to structural questions in a future faculty position, but I never got back there. I am still motivated by the puzzle and mystery of science, and I am glad to have found that in multiple fields. Ultimately, I began researching myeloid immune-cell regulation that would become the basis for my current research program." 

Dr. Freedman's postdoctoral research was interrupted by a complicated twin pregnancy and a family move to the University of Minnesota. She was offered a position as a Research Assistant Professor. Later she was offered a tenure-track Assistant Professor job with increased bench space and startup resources. Dr. Freedman says, "While there is a lot of pressure, I am thrilled with my job. I am grateful for the mentors and advocates who helped (or pushed) me along the way. I try to prioritize this role with my trainees and junior colleagues, honoring the scientific culture that drew me in from my first day in a lab." 

Q: What inspired you to become involved in DEI? 

A: "Throughout my career, I have welcomed a diverse pool of trainees to my lab and sought to provide mentoring tailored to each person's unique needs. It eventually occurred to me that keeping one's ideals purely a personal, practical matter is simply not doing enough. My hope is that by standing up, I can add my voice to others to reach a broader audience and increase the richness of our community."

Q: Can you describe how your career has been enhanced by exposure to diverse people, places, or experiences? 

A: "Living in different places and working with people from different backgrounds and cultures has opened my eyes to alternative approaches and reined in some of my assumptions. As a woman in science, I have surely benefited from the actions of others with this philosophy. More important than how diversity can benefit ME is correcting historical and ongoing wrongs and bringing a better spectrum of voices and ideas into play."

Q: How do you initiate or incorporate diversity, equity, and inclusion into your laboratory, classes, committees, etc.? 

A: My most direct contributions are being mindful and generous as a mentor, teacher, and committee member. I hope to be an ally and advocate, speaking up when necessary. I aim to be someone people can trust with difficult conversations. I check my assumptions about other people's motivations and inner dialogs. People defy simple labels and definitions and deserve to be treated as such.

You can check out Dr. Freedman’s faculty page and laboratory website.

Kathleen Boris-Lawrie, PhD (February 2023)

Dr. Kathleen Boris-Lawrie is a professor in the Department of Veterinary and Biomedical Sciences and a faculty member in the Microbiology, Immunology, and Cancer Biology (MICaB) Ph.D. graduate program. Her research and expertise is on retroviruses that cause cancer and AIDS, RNA biology, and host-pathogen interfaces in health and disease. Dr. Boris-Lawrie got her MS and BA in Microbiology at Southern Illinois University. She then completed her PhD in Molecular Genetics at the George Washington School of Medicine and then went on to do postdoctoral fellowships at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and the Lab of Molecular Virology at the National Cancer Institute. 

Q: Describe your educational background and how you got to where you are today. How did you decide to pursue a scientific career?  

A: My trek began with positive experience as an undergraduate microbiology researcher (due to the patient training of a generous post-doc) that turned into a Master's degree thesis and a job offer at a large drug company near New York City. There I learned how to screen soil samples for gyrase inhibitors, and that drug discovery definitely was not my passion. I was lucky enough to land a position at Abbott Labs in the Chicago area, where I first encountered molecular biology.  I was hooked. With my boss's encouragement, I shopped for PhD programs and landed at the George Washington School of Medicine, Washington, DC. Leaving a 'real job' for a pittance salary turned out to be well-worth the price. I gained not one, but two advisors who were collaborators at GWU and the National Cancer Institute, NIH. Their infectious enthusiasm and vast knowledge of molecular virology was amplified by the vibrant research culture at the NIH.  I cherished the opportunities to listen and get to know amazing senior scientists, junior physician scientists and other trainees from all over the globe.  My research on viral control of gene transcription in hosts spurred my interest in viral replication that causes cancer. This led me deeper into basic science and an academic postdoctoral fellowship with Dr. Howard Temin (the discoverer of Reverse Transcriptase). A scientist's scientist, my new mentor was an extraordinary professor and academic role model, and the university environment was richly interactive, akin to my PhD experience. And then, expansion of my science network continued during my years as a faculty member at The Ohio State University. There, colleagues and I teamed up and developed interdisciplinary cancer research projects and RNA biology programs. As I progressed through various leadership roles in research and graduate studies, new mentors emerged on the administrative side. Those interactions and experiences influenced my decision to become a department chair and trek north, up to the Twin Cities and the University of Minnesota.

Q: What does diversity, equity, and inclusion mean to you? 

A: Inclusion, the I of the DEI is the core. Inclusion is the outcome of culture change, so it is difficult, slow, but precious, once achieved.  Students, staff, faculty, and administrators – all the way up to the president of the university, have powerful roles to make timely progress, serving as early adopters or slow and reluctant adopters.  Legislation can and has increased diversity and expectations for equity in the workplace.  But legislation cannot foster the Inclusion of the new faces and fresh perspectives, nor equitable wages, but rather, people do.  An All-In approach continues to be crucial for Inclusion to become a reality.

Q: How do you think science has changed over time in regards to diversity, equity, and inclusion? What benefits do you see? 

A: Well, expectations for equitable pay and access to promotion have raised participation of women and BIPOC in the STEM workplace. And now there is daily affirmation of the benefits of diversity, e.g. much more interesting culture given multiple perspectives, and abundant diversity training and teaching opportunities for students, faculty and staff. 

Q: What do you think needs to be better (in general or at this institution)? 

A: Meritocracy and Inclusion clash.  Professionally, barriers to success have been "the old boys' network" and un-blinded evaluation of grants, age/sex discrimination.  

A piece by Daniel Markovits reflects on the topic at:

Luiza Mendonca, PhD (December 2022)

Dr. Mendonca completed her education at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, with Dr. Luciana Jesus da Costa. During her Ph.D., she secured a highly competitive independent scholarship to do part of her Ph.D. research abroad. She decided to join the lab of Professor Grant Jensen at Caltech and learn cryo-tomography. At the end of my time there, She was invited to become a postdoc at the labs of Dr. Lou Mansky and Dr. Wei Zhang here at UMN. From there, she went for a second postdoc at the University of Oxford with Dr. Peijun Zhang. She is now back at UMN as a new Assistant Professor at the Department of Biochemistry, Molecular Biology, and Biophysics.

Q: Can you describe how your career has been enhanced by exposure to diverse people, places, or experiences?

A: I have lived in three different continents – Latin America, North America, and Europe. Living in different places has allowed me to interact closely and engage with mentors, peers, and mentees from the most diverse cultural and ethnic backgrounds, totaling more than 20 different countries. I am very grateful for this experience, as I find learning the details and values of different cultures very stimulating. I believe this has contributed to my own personal growth and values. I learned that science is a human enterprise that connects us all across boundaries. Differences enrich our projects and overall lab experience. I am determined to transmit the approaches and instill the values I learned.

Q: What does diversity, equity, and inclusion mean to you?

A: To me, it means being open, mindful, and curious. It also means actively working to mitigate bias. In this case, being simply mindful and aware is not enough (but a good starting point!). This was a great motivator in my personal journey to become an Assistant Professor at a US R1 university, as it became clear that enacting change from ‘the inside’ can be a swifter and more efficient path.

Q: How do you initiate or incorporate diversity, equity, and inclusion into your laboratory, classes, committees, etc?

A: My academic journey has made me develop a good sense of cultural awareness, enabling me to recognize and utilize cultural competencies to bring out the best that each person can contribute to the group. Through my past interactions with mentees and peers, I concluded that people have different styles and that a one-size-fits-all approach won’t bring out the best that each person has to contribute to the growth of the group. This flexibility lends itself quite well to creating an equitable and inclusive lab climate.

Each individual is characterized by a particular subculture, work ethic, and learning style that demands the molding of the mentorship style.

Q: How do you think science has changed over time in regards to diversity, equity, and inclusion? What benefits do you see? What do you think needs to be better (in general or at this institution)?

A: I think academia has improved considerably regarding DEI in the last few years. I see many more women in leadership positions in academia now than I saw as an undergrad. Conferences are actively imposing a 50-50% gender distribution of speakers, and some of them offer childcare stipends to attendants. But the pace

of this change has been glacial. The gender and racial pay gap is a sad reminder of that. More active work and more ambitious goals are necessary to accelerate change. One area lagging behind is the equity to opportunities independent of citizenship status. Unfortunately, many funding opportunities for immigrants in the US are limited by citizenship requirements. This is especially harsh for immigrants from developing countries, which face the double whammy of a dearth of funding opportunities from their own countries.

Kristin Snyder (November 2022)

Kristin Snyder (soon to be Dr. Kristin Snyder!) is a DVM/PhD Candidate in the Comparative and Molecular Biosciences program at the University of Minnesota, St. Paul campus. Her work revolves around enhancing ADCC by NK cells. Kristin earned her BS in Biology at Susquehanna University in Pennsylvania where she was introduced to basic research. After graduating she took a job in a basic research laboratory while she prepared for the MCAT and to apply to medical school. During this time, her career goals pivoted and she decided to pursue veterinary medicine and research. Kristin changed her plan and became focused on completing a DVM/PhD program here at the University of Minnesota. She is awaiting to defend her thesis and is now back in veterinary school to complete the rest of her DVM degree. 

Q: How has your career been enhanced by exposure to diverse people, places, or experiences? 

A: One of my favorite college professors was my organic chemistry professor, Dr. Henry, a black woman from Jamaica. She expected us to show up in her lab prepared and required attention to detail, but she never required perfection. Her lab was a space to learn from, and occasionally laugh about, mistakes without judgment. When I was debating returning to graduate school 6 years after undergrad, Dr. Henry was in my corner the entire way. When I moved to MN, she was here for a conference and she made sure to check in on me, in person, to make sure I was settling in okay and thriving in my new environment. I found out years later that her family couldn't afford to send her to college, so a community member stepped in and paid her bill. Dr. Henry has been a continuing source for both my personal and professional growth as a scientist. We grow by listening to and learning from other's unique perspectives.

Q: What does diversity, equity, and inclusion mean to you?

A: To me, DEI means respecting one another's differences; giving people a safe space to learn, succeed, and grow; and recognizing and supporting the fact that someone else’s needs may be very different from mine.

Q: How do you initiate or incorporate diversity, equity, and inclusion into your laboratory, classes, committees, etc? 

A:  I try my best to be an ally for my fellow classmates, coworkers, and colleagues by following the "if you see something, say something" rule. It can be a bit intimidating to speak out in certain situations or to approach someone in a position of authority, especially if I know they have done something that has hurt someone else.

Q: How do you think science has changed over time in regards to diversity, equity, and inclusion? What benefits do you see and what do you think needs to be better?

A: The compensation gap between men and women is still a problem in science and medicine. For example, despite veterinary medicine shifting to a largely female dominated profession, women are still paid less than men, and women in academia are promoted at a slower rate than men despite having the same qualifications.

Yuying Liang, PhD (September 2022)

Dr. Yuying Liang grew up in Chengdu, which is a major metropolitan city in southwest China. She received a Bachelor of Science (BS) degree in Biochemistry at Sichuan University in 1992, and Master of Science (MS) in Molecular Biology at Shanghai Institute of Biochemistry, Chinese Academy of Science (CAS) in 1995. After graduate school at CAS in Shanghai, she then went to the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada, for a Ph.D. program in Genetics, where she studied viral replication of Rubella virus (an RNA virus which causes congenital defects) under Dr. Shirley Gillam. 

After receiving her Ph.D. degree in 2000, she went to the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) as a postdoctoral fellow in Dr. Don Ganem’s laboratory, where she studied the virus-host interaction of Kaposi’s sarcoma-associated herpesvirus (KSHV), a large DNA virus causing cancers, especially in the immunocompromised HIV patients. Dr. Liang started her independent research career as an Assistant Professor at Emory University, moved to the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, as an Associate Professor in late 2011, and is currently a full professor in the Department of Veterinary and Biomedical Sciences, College of Veterinary Medicine.  Dr. Liang’s research focuses on emerging zoonotic RNA viruses to and works to improve human and animal health. 

Q: How has your career been enhanced by exposure to diverse people, places, or experiences? 

A: Throughout my education and career, I have been to many places from China, Canada to the US, and have met diverse people of different ethnic, cultural, religious, and social backgrounds. These levels of diversity have not only enriched my life experiences but also helped build my research capacity and develop my career. Through the strictly structured and didactic learning environment in Chinese education system, I acquired the quality of hard-working, focus, and perseverance. I obtained critical thinking, communication skills, and independent research ability from rigorous graduate and postgraduate training in Canada and US. I learned to respect different perspectives from people with diverse backgrounds, and learned to be compassionate and inclusive of different opinions and needs. These experiences have made me a better person, a better researcher, and a better educator.  

Q: What does diversity, equity, and inclusion mean to you? 

A: As a first-generation immigrant and woman faculty of an ethnic minority, I regard diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) as an essential policy to ensure a prosperous and just society for all. DEI is particularly important for our research and academic community. Diverse racial, gender, cultural, and socio-economic backgrounds, as well as physical or mental impairment, help stimulate the dynamic and necessary exchange of ideas leading to discovery and innovation, and help disseminate knowledge and stop misinformation.  

Q: How do you initiate or incorporate diversity, equity, and inclusion into your laboratory, classes, committees, etc? 

A: I aim to promote the representation of under-represented minority (URM) at all levels (graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, and faculty), to help identify and adequately address any imminent and specific challenges facing URM students in their research and professional/career development, to facilitate connections and exposures of URM scholars in the scientific community, and to provide career advice for URM trainees.

Mikaela Robertson, MPH, RD (June 2022)

Health Promotion Specialist at Boynton Health

Current Co-Chair of the Lactation Advocacy Committee

I joined the University of Minnesota as an employee in the fall of 2017. In my previous public health positions, one component of my work was helping workplaces better support breast- and chestfeeding employees. I thought I would have to give up that work in my new position because I assumed that at a University with 55,000 students and 15,000 employees, a central office would have responsibility for the oversight and coordination of lactation support on campus. But I joined the Lactation Advocacy Committee (LAC) shortly after I started in my new position and realized that in spite of its size, lactation support efforts on the Twin Cities campus were coordinated and led by the all-volunteer LAC, with no guidance, direction, support, or funding from a central unit or office. Thus began my participation in a five-year journey to advance lactation support at the University of Minnesota that brings us to today.

Regarding lactation support at the U--a lot has changed since 2017, and a lot remains to be done. The LAC has been successful in working with Space Management, a unit within University Services, to take over planning, designing, and consulting with units about new lactation spaces on campus, which has led to the creation and planned creation of many new lactation spaces. The Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action (EOAA) Office developed and recently implemented an anti-discrimination policy that includes guidance for requesting and providing lactation accommodations. This spring the LAC has been working with EOAA to help University units learn about and implement the lactation support provisions of this new policy.

These are exciting developments that will make it easier for parents to pump while working or studying on campus. However, the LAC continues to advocate for paid staff time dedicated to coordinating lactation support across units on campus in a sustainable, deliberate, and accountable way. An unmandated, unfunded, all-volunteer committee with no formal authority or reporting structure is not the ideal organization to maintain the U’s public-facing list of lactation spaces, collect and respond to lactation-related concerns and complaints from across campus, and be responsible for providing lactation support education to U of M students, employees, supervisors, and leaders. We continue to advocate for lactation support coordination to be incorporated into a paid staff role within a central unit at the U of M.

Until that happens, we invite you to join us! The Lactation Advocacy Committee meets monthly on the first Thursday of each month from 10:00 - 11:00 am via Zoom, and welcomes all campus community members with interest in lactation support or experience with lactation. Our next meeting is June 2nd; we will skip our July meeting and meet again on August 4th. Sign up for our email list to receive information about meetings and updates related to lactation support on campus. Or--email us at We look forward to hearing from you.

Amy H. Moore, PhD, MBA (March 2022)

Mother to 2 amazing teenagers

Wife to an amazing, patient, and supportive husband of 19 years

Director, Business Development & Strategy, ImmunityBio, Inc.

Founder, Moore BioBusiness LLC

Adjunct Faculty, University of Minnesota Carlson School of Management

Amy facilitates the Inclusive Innovators Network, which is offered annually to a cohort of early-career researchers whose gender, race and/or ethnicity is underrepresented in technology commercialization. During this program, participants learn about meta-skills related to commercialization and encourage community building through mutual problem solving. Here’s a little more on why she’s involved with this program…

"I wish that I had learned that during my PhD program". I frequently found myself saying this phrase as a full-time MBA student at the UMn Carlson School of Management (CSOM), an unexpected situation for me given my plan for a long career in academia. Sometimes this phrase was stimulated by my new awareness of business reports from a healthcare-related company that was relevant to my previous academic research. But the phrase was more commonly spurred when I realized (with the support of an amazing advisor at the career center) that my skills as a scientist(*) were valuable outside of the laboratory. When reps from companies and non-profit foundations unrelated to medicine were interested in meeting me because my foundations in problem solving*, data analysis*, communication*, team contribution and management*, project planning* and financial budgeting* were attractive for their organization, I gained enthusiasm that I was not limited in how I could add value. This perspective encouraged me to broaden my network, discover new career options, and pursue opportunities that I did not know existed as a grad student. I now focus on serving as a mediator/translator/accelerator along the complex path that moves bench discoveries towards quality-of-life improving therapies. I am so fortunate for the education, insight, network, and lifelong friends that were specific to the CSOM MBA program. But the awareness of my professional potential as a scientist could have come earlier independent of pursuing the other degree. I hope to encourage/remind scientists at any stage of their career that there are many valid and rewarding trajectories to explore, and I want them to trust that their graduate training provides a skillset desired by most  – the power lies with them to uncover and consider several roles until one fits.  

As exciting and satisfying as these non-academic careers may be, they still may be considered non-traditional and less approachable. My one goal in interacting with early-career scientists through grad student/postdoc events, short courses, or mentorship is to increase familiarity (via discussion or network introductions) with these paths and to ask those “have you considered?” scenarios that may not be typical of graduate seminars or journal clubs, and to connect scientists to mentors and resources. For the Inclusive Innovators Network, our goal was to provide the forum to learn, discuss, share, soothe, test, pose the “what if?”, connect, and create community for those who have disruptive innovations but have yet to be recognized or supported to foster their ideas. In all transparency, I am also selfishly motivated to maintain connection with young scientists in order to witness and be inspired by the curiosity, commitment, discovery, fearlessness, and “why not try” attitude that brings one to the lab in the first place and sparks those discoveries…and then reinforce that all is good and one’s identity remains strong whether one chooses to channel that momentum within, adjacent, indirectly-related, or perhaps completely independent to that training ground.

Heather Breidenbach, oSTEM Outreach Officer (February 2022)

oSTEM Outreach Officer

Biomedical Engineering

Class of 2023

Hello! I am Heather Breidenbach, the outreach officer for oSTEM (out in STEM), a group that focuses on promoting LGBTQ+ representation and learning in the STEM fields. LGBTQ+ scientists have been historically underrepresented, and we seek to address this by providing these students a space to grow and explore the field. Additionally, oSTEM works on professional development and career exploration; we host frequent events where career scientists are invited to speak both about their work in their field and their experiences being LGBTQ+ in the workplace, as well as send out opportunities for internships and jobs in STEM fields.

Our goal is to show all scientists, no matter their identity, that they have a place in their desired field. We work on community building, allowing students and mentors to meet and get to know their peers and fellow scientists better. We have done outreach at the Minneapolis Pride events for the past several years, as well as sent members to national conferences. We are planning to expand our outreach events and help Minnesota high school students learn more about the STEM fields and what opportunities wait for them in the future! Our group is always exploring new event ideas and coming up with ways to best connect with the students here at the U of MN.

If you are interested in learning more about oSTEM, or want to contact us, please feel free to send us an email at We are always happy to hear from new people!

EWIS Male Allyship Committee (January 2022)

We would like to introduce EWIS newest committee on Allyship: the leadership, their motivation for creating the committee, and goals.

Justin Spanier, PhD, Assistant Professor, Division of Rheumatic and Autoimmune Diseases, Center for Immunology

Alex Dwyer, Graduate student, Medical Scientist Training Program (MD/PhD), Center for Immunology

Gender related biases contribute to societal inequities to which the academic science community is not immune. We created the Male Allyship Committee within EWIS to promote the engagement of men in our efforts to educate and take action towards gender equity within our community. We feel strongly that men must be visibly engaged in these efforts in order to make significant progress. By creating the Male Allyship Committee and formally becoming a part of EWIS we hope to increase the engagement of men across our campus in promoting gender equity.  

Second, our early goals and long-term goals of the committee include:

Early goals:

Long-term goals:

How can others help the committee and generally boost allyship activities in their research environment?

The easiest thing is to add EWIS to your calendars and attend an event. Also easy, is to contact Justin Spanier ( or Alex Dwyer ( and request to be added to our list of Male Ally affiliates so that you can receive tips and information about events and activities related to gender equity. We think it is important to remember that we all have biases, whether implicit or explicit, and it is our responsibility as allies to recognize these biases, admit to mistakes, and work with our colleagues to constructively maintain an enjoyable, productive, and equitable relationship.