Professors Pave Way for Women in STEM

By Alaina Uricheck ’23
Summer Fall 2023 Issue

Peggy Peeler | BIOLOGY

Peggy Peeler arrived in 1989 as the first female biology professor at Susquehanna and only one of two female science professors at the university, something Peeler said was not at all unusual. She said giving SU students the chance to see a woman in a position of authority in STEM made her feel a little bit like a groundbreaker.

“Working in the STEM field for my whole career gave me understanding of the importance of supporting women at the beginning of their careers,” Peeler says. And it was that understanding that led her to collaborate with an interdepartmental group of faculty to start SU’s Women in STEM program in 2016.

Now The Charles B. Degenstein Professor of Biology, Peeler runs the Women in STEM program, which currently has over 50 student members. The goal of the program is to prepare women for careers in a workforce that has traditionally been a male-dominated space and to support them as female-identifying students studying in challenging majors. Though STEM fields are still male-dominated, Peeler noted how far the field has come since she entered it.

“It is remarkable how unremarkable women science professors have become,” she says.

Peeler said she tries to be a mentor and has had students and alumni tell her they view her as one. This year all four of her senior capstone students were women and have participated in the Women in STEM program. As graduates, they will enter a world very different from the one in which Peeler began her career.

Erin Rhinehart | NEUROSCIENCE

As a woman in STEM, Professor of Biology Erin Rhinehart is all too aware that when asked to name a prominent or influential scientist, most people tend to name a white male. For many women and individuals of color in STEM, the scientists they learn about do not seem relatable.

To help combat this, Rhinehart required her Introduction to Physiology students learn about a scientist from a list of women and people of color. They wrote about, presented and discussed the scientist’s personal life, career trajectory and scientific contributions, and also shared how they related to the scientist personally.

Rhinehart conducted a pre- and post-course survey, which showed a significant shift in students believing scientists are predominantly white and male, and a shift in the number of students who said they could relate to scientists personally.


Associate Professor of Earth & Environmental Sciences Jennifer Elick was always interested in nature, but as a student didn’t know how to explore that interest as a field of study. The one-time freelance photojournalist entered college as a journalism major and soon discovered that geology combined all of her interests.

She describes herself as a traditional geologist and has spent time studying the rock record in an effort to understand environments of the ancient world.

Elick has been able to implement art into her geology work through sketching and photography.

Geneive Henry | CHEMISTRY

Image of Geneive Henry. When Geneive Henry joined the faculty at Susquehanna in 2003, she became one of the first professors of color to be hired in the university’s natural sciences departments — a dynamic that was foreign to her while growing up in Jamaica, where she attended an all-female high school taught mainly by women. Today she is The Charles B. Degenstein Professor of Chemistry.

“Unlike the United States, where you rarely find women in leadership positions in some STEM disciplines, that’s not the case in Jamaica,” Henry explains. She estimated half of her science professors were women.


As a child, Alathea Jensen enjoyed playing with patterns, solving puzzles and using logic. So logically, math became her passion. Math was also her father’s best subject and he encouraged her to try as hard as she could. Jensen sees a pattern in that too.

“That’s something a lot of female mathematicians have in common — our dads encouraged us,” says Jensen, assistant professor of mathematics & computer science.

At Susquehanna, she strives to support students and help their dreams become reality.

Jan Reichard-Brown | HEALTH CARE STUDIES

Associate Professor of Biology Jan Reichard-Brown had no idea how male-dominated the STEM field was until she went to college in the 1970s. She often felt judged on a different level than her peers, and still remembers an instance when her gender was made to overshadow her academic 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 uses her position as director of health care studies to “empower my students to reach for their dreams and then provide them the support they need to make that happen.”

Samya Zain | PHYSICS

When Associate Professor of Physics Samya Zain was furthering her education in physics, most women in her native Pakistan did not pursue higher education, especially after they were married. However, Zain was married and had a 3-month-old child, something some of her male classmates took issue with.

“One of my male classmates even told me that I had wasted a seat that should have been a boy’s seat at the physics department in the university,” Zain remembers, “and that I should stay at home and take care of my child.”

She credits her father for insisting she had the same educational opportunities as her brothers.

Read more about Susquehanna’s Women in STEM here

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