February 08, 2023

By Alaina Uricheck ’23

This is the fourth story in our series on Women in STEM.

Jan Reichard-Brown had no idea how male-dominated the STEM field was until she became a biology major at Gettysburg College in the 1970s. But she soon became very familiar with the gender dynamics in STEM at the time.

“Part of the intimidation was being physically outnumbered,” Reichard-Brown said. “When I started at Gettysburg, the campus was 3-to-1 men to women, and the biology department was more dramatic. There were no female faculty members in any STEM discipline.”

Reichard-Brown, associate professor health care studies and biology, often felt judged on a different level than her peers. She recounted an instance when she scored a perfect grade in her histology class, something no student had done before. When her professor announced it to the class, her gender was made to overshadow her accomplishment.

“He said, ‘You won’t believe who got a perfect score.’ And he pointed to me, like they would never believe a woman had done this,” she recalls. “I never forgot that.”

Reichard-Brown also recalled an experience a fellow female classmate had: The woman expected an A in a class in which she clearly excelled. When her report card listed a B, she spoke with her professor, who indicated that one of her male counterparts had “worked harder” in the class and was more deserving of an A. “She didn’t see what that had to do with her grade, but the professor wouldn’t budge.”

Reichard-Brown also felt like an outsider because she felt like a first-generation college student. Although her father attended college after serving in the army during World War II, his experience was not typical. “I was your classic first-born, first-generation overachiever,” she said.

She remembered taking the most difficult classes and skipping weekend activities in favor of study time. But even this determination didn’t quell her feelings of inadequacy, nor did it help her discern what is often referred to as the “hidden curriculum” of higher education – the norms and expectations that govern interactions among students, faculty and staff.

“I did not know that I should be looking for summer jobs that would get me some experience or that maybe I should get involved in a professor’s research,” Reichard-Brown said. “I would have been too intimidated to approach anyone.”

Despite these challenges, upon entering graduate school at the University of Cincinnati, Reichard-Brown realized she was better prepared than many of her peers who graduated from larger universities.

“It made me a firm believer in a liberal arts education, which is why I am passionate about teaching and working at SU,” she said.

Reichard-Brown joined the faculty at Susquehanna in 2001. For most of the ensuing years she has served as director of Susquehanna’s health care studies program advising students who are interested in a career in health care. She also belongs to the Northeast Association of Advisors for the Health Professions, an organization she served as president. Her work with NEAAHP provides her with additional opportunities to mentor first-generation college students, many of whom are also students of color.

“The best part of my job is helping kids reach their dreams when they thought they couldn’t,” she said. “I am here to empower my students to reach for their dreams and then provide them the support they need to make that happen.”