The Gender Factor

Women Taking the Sciences by Storm

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Jaynathi Wolf ’96

Growing up in Africa, Jayanthi Jayawardena Wolf didn’t know if she would ever get the chance to pursue her passion for science. Wolf knew she wanted to study science since high school, but there were very limited opportunities for higher education in her home country, and her family could not afford to send her to college overseas.

So she focused all the more intently on her academic success, which eventually paid off. Upon graduating from high school, Wolf was awarded an international student scholarship from Susquehanna, which enabled her to study science in the United States and eventually travel down a career path that she says “has exceeded my expectations.”

At just 36, Wolf currently works as associate director of biologics safety assessment at Merck Research Laboratories in West Point, Pa. She manages a group of 19 scientists who support both the research and manufacturing divisions in order to test the safety of new vaccines.

She also actively participates in several drug development teams comprised of individuals from multiple disciplines working together to develop potentially therapeutic products—all the way from the laboratory bench through safety and efficacy studies, and eventually to licensing.

“It’s very exciting to be working on potential therapies that could improve human life in the near future,” says Wolf. “It’s particularly rewarding to learn about the real-life benefits to individuals when a therapy becomes a marketed product.”

Prior to starting her career at Merck, Wolf majored in biochemistry at Susquehanna and then went on to study cellular immunology and molecular biology at Princeton University, where she received her doctorate degree in 2001.

“My undergraduate education in the life sciences at Susquehanna gave me a solid foundation for graduate school and beyond,” says Wolf. “The nurturing environment at Susquehanna also encouraged me to explore areas outside my scientific niche. For example, participating in extracurricular activities and becoming an officer in several clubs and volunteer groups enabled me to develop some of the organizational and leadership skills that I continue to use in my management position today.”

Jennifer Wolny ’96

When Jennifer Wolny Shurtleff left for college in 1992, she thought she was going to become a geneticist. Everything changed, however, when she enrolled in biology professor Jack Holt's Plants, Protists and Fungi course, a precursor to today’s Systematic Biology class.

“I had never considered the world of botany before this class,” recalls Wolny, 37. “Once I did, I was hooked on the hidden complexity of chlorophyll-bearing organisms.”

That hook has led Wolny to an exciting career as a research faculty member at the University of South Florida, where she focuses on the bloom dynamics of harmful algae, often called red tides. Over the last several years, Wolny has been focusing on the use of remote-sensing technologies to track the movement of these harmful organisms. The
goal is to one day be able to create what she calls “a bloom forecast.” Despite the enormity of the task, Wolny says she is still fascinated by the simplest elements of her field.

“Any time I get to observe phytoplankton with a microscope is exciting,” she says. “The intricate beauty of single celled microscopic organisms is amazing.”

Wolny says almost every step of her academic experience at Susquehanna prepared her for the work she does today. While studying at the university, she was given the opportunity to conduct research alongside faculty members in the biology and earth and environmental sciences departments, which gave her a competitive advantage when seeking admission to graduate school.

“Above all else, I cannot say enough about Susquehanna’s commitment to ensuring its students know how to write for their chosen field,” says Wolny. “I left knowing how a scientific paper should be assembled and acquired the skills to do so. Now that I’m in a position to hire and supervise employees, interns and volunteers, I see so many young graduates that lack this skill and cannot effectively communicate even at the basic level, let alone at the professional level.”

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