Bryn Mawr College Research Associate Katherine N. Marenco joined First Lady Michelle Obama, fellow researchers and scientists, university presidents and administrators, heads of various scientific organizations, and others at the White House last week for an event marking the announcement of the National Science Foundation Career-Life Balance Initiative.
The initiative implements across all NSF programs a standard set of new family-friendly workplace flexibility policies that had previously been developed and applied on an ad-hoc basis.
The new policies are likely to have the biggest impact on women but will also help men in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields pursue their professional careers while caring for their children or aging parents. One of the main goals of the initiative is to increase the representation—and retention—of women in STEM departments in academia.
“If we’re going to out-innovate and out-educate the rest of the world, then we have to open doors to everyone,” said Mrs. Obama during the event at the White House held to announce the initiative. “We need all hands on deck. And that means clearing hurdles for women and girls as they navigate careers in science, technology, engineering and math.”
Marenco is an NSF Earth Sciences Postdoctoral Fellow, married to new Geology Assistant Professor Pedro Marenco.
She was one of 14 young scientists (all recipients of NSF funding) for whom the new policies have particular relevance.
“Pedro learned that he had gotten the position at Bryn Mawr just before I received the news about my NSF Fellowship in the spring of 2009. Both of us were at the University of California Riverside at the time—he as a postdoctoral fellow and I as a lecturer. I had proposed to carry out my fellowship research at UC Riverside, but we were preparing to move across the country for Pedro’s job. Very fortunately for me, NSF approved my request to transfer my fellowship to BMC. The increased flexibility introduced by NSF’s new initiative will make these kinds of life transitions smoother for other young women scientists like me, many of them surely BMC graduates,” says Marenco.
Last year (2010-2011), as a temporary lecturer, Marenco taught the lab sections for the geology department’s three introductory courses and a new quarter-length course called “Origin and Early Evolution of Life.” She also supervised a senior geology major on her thesis project and two student participants in the Summer Science Research Program and has taken a total of four BMC students to Utah to do fieldwork during the past two summers.