Public Release: 

US Women scientists from Latin America to encourage colleagues from south

American Association for the Advancement of Science

Washington, D.C.- 12 August 2002--Araceli Espinosa-Jeffrey, Nora Sabelli, and Maria Josefina Coloma have much more in common than their birthplaces in Latin countries and the career paths that have led them to become top scientists in the United States.

As young women, the three had realized that the way they looked at the world would take them far from home, challenge them to overcome traditional expectations of women, and make them seek mentors and money that would help earn them the PhDs they would need to become full-fledged researchers.

Now, with years of successful work behind them, Sabelli, Espinosa and Coloma, all of whom live and work in California, have been chosen to tell their stories at a meeting of scientists in Costa Rica on August 28, sponsored by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and CONICIT, Costa Rica's national research agency, which is celebrating its 30th anniversary.

"We have selected these women for their outstanding work as scientists and engineers, and for their compelling personal stories about the challenges they faced in the pursuit of a scientific career," said Alan I. Leshner, CEO of AAAS. "We hope that the experiences of these distinguished scientists will inspire young women to become scientists and engineers, and provide them with a strategy for getting there."

Araceli Espinosa-Jeffrey, 47 and a neurochemist at the Neuropsychiatry Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles, collected spiders and "window mosquitoes" at her home in Mexico City when she was five, and knew that she wanted to be a chemist by the time she was ten. By 17, she had settled on biology. But her parents disagreed.

"It was as if a newborn bird had been put in a cage with kangaroos," she said of her efforts to study mathematics--her parents' choice. "I was strong enough to move toward what I wanted, rather than doing what my parents wanted me to do. I believe that my story might help some of these young ladies overcome the obstacles and fight harder for what they would like to study."

Nora Sabelli, 65 and a native of Buenos Aires, was named after a character in Ibsen's A Doll's House, and has often thought about how fortunate she was to escape the expectations that might have prevented her becoming a theoretical chemist. But raising girls so that they believe they can become scientists is only the beginning, says Sabelli, who retired as a researcher and professor from the University of Illinois, and now is co-director of a nonprofit educational research center in Menlo Park, CA.

"Expectations are only the starting point," says Sabelli, who has also written extensively about science education. "The human and organizational infrastructure must be in place for individuals to succeed in the face of the challenges they will face."

Maria Josefina Coloma, 36, was born in Quito, Ecuador, where she realized early on that, "the path closes after a 'Licenciatura,' or Masters degree." Recently, the microbiologist has been working in a laboratory at the University of California in Berkeley studying the structure and development of dengue, an infectious disease that every year causes hundreds of thousands of cases of hemorrhagic fever around the world, killing thousands of people. Although she loves the "bench work," Coloma dedicates herself to building bridges between, "first-world science" and "third world problems."

Coloma, Espinosa and Sabelli are in the first of three groups of women scientists invited to speak in Latin America by AAAS and Interciencia, a federation of associations for the advancement of science in the Americas. Two other groups of three women scientists will be sent to scientific meetings in the coming months--one in Panama in November, and a second in Recife, Brazil in July 2003. The goal of the initiative, funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) is to increase the visibility of the careers of U.S. women scientists, and to increase the participation of women in the scientific enterprise in the Latin America region.

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Founded in 1848, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) works to advance science for human well-being through its projects, programs and publications in the areas of science policy, science education and international scientific cooperation. With over 134,000 members from 130 countries and 273 affiliated societies comprising more than 10 million members, AAAS is the world's largest federation of scientists. The association also publishes Science, an editorially independent, multidisciplinary, weekly peer-reviewed journal that ranks as the world's most prestigious scientific journal and administers EurekAlert! (www.eurekalert.org), the online news service featuring the latest discoveries in science and technology.

Additional contact information:
Marina Ratchford at AAAS, mratchfo@aaas.org (e-mail) / 202-326-6490 (phone), or Alejandra Araya at CONICIT, aaraya@conicit.go.cr (e-mail) / 506-224-4172 (phone) / 506-225-2673 (fax)

For English: http://http://www.aaas.org/international/lac/womeninscience.shtml
For Spanish: http://www.conicit.go.cr/mujeres_ciencia

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