Kennesaw State students encouraged by female leaders at Women in Science Forum

KENNESAW, Ga. | Oct 12, 2022

Several themes were present throughout Monday’s Women in Science Forum on Kennesaw State University’s Marietta Campus: work hard, accept all opportunities, and advocate for yourself and others. 

The forum, organized by KSU’s Office of Research, helped kick off a week of events celebrating the upcoming investiture of Kathy Schwaig, Kennesaw State’s sixth president and third female in the University’s history. 

“There is no better way for us to mark this investiture week than to hear from these four incredibly accomplished female scientists and leaders,” said Phaedra Corso, vice president for research. “Their accomplishments demonstrate that there are no limitations to the potential for women to excel in any discipline.”

The panelists represented an array of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields. They discussed challenges faced throughout their careers and how they overcame them, attributes that make good leaders, and how important it is for students and young professionals to have a mentor. They were also asked about advice they would give to students.

L to R: Stacey Young-McCaughan, Nancy Messonnier, President Kathy Schwaig, Marija Mikic, Komal Patel, Phaedra Corso

Komal Patel, a senior manager at Lockheed Martin, emphasized the importance of not having regrets and being eager about accepting opportunities.

“Say ‘yes’ to every opportunity, because each one will teach you something about yourself, your skills, and your goals,” Patel said.

Nancy Messonnier, Dean of the Gillings School of Global Public Health at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a former senior leader at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said everyone experiences challenges in their career but it’s important to stay true to yourself.

“You have moments in your life when you decide who you are and what you’re going to do next,” Messonnier said. When asked about advice she would give to students, Messonnier said to engage with faculty members, because they are eager to mentor students and help them achieve their dreams.

When asked about mentorship, the group discussed how important it is for leaders in industry and academic settings to advocate for other women.

“Helping women remove that cloud of doubt they may have about their skills or experience goes a long way,” said Marija Mikic, senior engineering director in YouTube Ads and site lead for Google Los Angeles.

Stacey Young-McCaughan, who currently serves as Director of Research for the STRONG STAR Consortium at University of Texas Health San Antonio’s School of Medicine and retired from the Army in 2008 after serving 29 years as an Army Nurse Corps Officer, encouraged women to never discount themselves in male-dominated fields.

“We all face challenges, but I have not felt discounted for being a woman,” Young-McCaughan said. “I don’t give up on my ideas, and I think that’s a good attitude to keep in mind. You might have a great idea in your career, and the timing might not be perfect, but your opportunity will come and you need to be ready to seize that opportunity.”

For the first time in Kennesaw State University’s history, female students make up the majority of the incoming freshman class, the entire undergraduate student body, and the graduate student body.

“Since KSU’s elevation to R2 status in 2018, women have played an increasingly prominent role in the research undertakings of the University,” Corso said, noting that 57% of last year’s First-Year Scholars in the Office of Undergraduate Research were women.

Several students attended the forum, including freshman biology major Alyssa Dance, who felt inspired after the discussion.

“It was interesting to hear from women who have difficult careers, but who had similar messages for women interested in science,” said Dance, who hopes to attend medical school. “I aspire to have their confidence.”

The event concluded with a reception, sponsored by the KSU Alumni Association, in honor of Schwaig’s presidential investiture, which will be held on Thursday, Oct. 13.

–  Abbey O’Brien Barrows
Photos by Matt Yung and Darnell Wilburn


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A leader in innovative teaching and learning, Kennesaw State University offers undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees to its more than 45,000 students. Kennesaw State is a member of the University System of Georgia with 11 academic colleges. The university’s vibrant campus culture, diverse population, strong global ties and entrepreneurial spirit draw students from throughout the country and the world. Kennesaw State is a Carnegie-designated doctoral research institution (R2), placing it among an elite group of only 7 percent of U.S. colleges and universities with an R1 or R2 status. For more information, visit