Pilot WIScience Scholarship Program is a success – “it’s scientifically proven”

Sonia Step
Sonia Step
PhD Student
University of Pennsylvania
Kate Sheffey Biotechnology Masters Program, Johns Hopkins University Senior Chemist Supernus Pharmaceuticals, Inc.
Martha Sklavos, PhD Postdoctoral Fellow Frederick National Laboratory for Cancer Research
Natalie Leach Stringer, PhD
Natalie Leach Stringer, PhD Assistant Professor Northern Virginia Community College




By: Rachana Sainger PhD, Jocelyn Ulrich, MPH, and Jennifer Jaskowiak MBA

The HBA Mid Atlantic Chapter Women in Science (WIS) Affinity Group recently completed a pilot professional development scholarship program initiated in 2013. The program titled “WIScience Scholarship: The Premier Catalyst for Developing Women Leaders in Science” provided an excellent opportunity for budding scientists and women in scientific or technical roles to advance their careers, build networks among peers and volunteer for a premier association for the advancement of women as thought leaders in healthcare. The scholarship program was recognized by the Mid-Atlantic Chapter Board with a 2013 Innovation Award. This award recognized the creation of the new program to expand HBA membership deeper into the scientific/government sectors. The program itself raised visibility of the HBA within these sectors. The program was developed to attract budding and aspiring healthcare professionals with scientific backgrounds from academia and government organizations in the Mid-Atlantic region to the HBA. All scholarship recipients were expected to experience the value of the HBA through participation in HBA WIS or Mid Atlantic chapter meetings, participate in 6-8 meetings throughout the year with their assigned mentor, and volunteer in HBA initiatives or activities. Each recipient also prepared a short essay describing their experiences and what they learned during the year as a scholarship winner.

Four professionals with different scientific backgrounds in the earlier stages of their careers – Natalie Leach Stringer, PhD, Sonia Step, Kate Sheffey and Martha Sklavos, PhD were selected as WIScholarship recipients for the year 2013-2014. Based on feedback, mentoring appeared to be the most valuable aspect of the program for all of the recipients. Natalie Leach Stringer explained “Having her (Dr. Laurie Hill) as a mentor was the most beneficial part of this experience. She has helped me navigate the many “unknowns” of moving into the next career level. She has helped me develop a leadership presence and offered advice on work-life balance.” Kate Sheffey shared “I feel more confident in my own career and in my workplace, largely due to the mentorship afforded through the program.” Sonia Step explored options for a new career after completing her PhD through guidance from her mentor, while Martha Sklavos’ confidence was boosted while trying to navigate a career path by having a mentor (Gina Wilkerson) who was like “a coach, cheerleader, and confidant.”

The WIScience professional development scholarship program also provided a platform to network among professionals with varied backgrounds and to learn about new and exciting opportunities available in the healthcare industry. Networking can be awkward however as an HBA member it is a different story. Kate Sheffey found HBA “A safe place to discuss her ideal career trajectory and also to figure out the best way to achieve her goals.” For example, participating in an HBA webinar on social media helped Kate to connect with people in the scientific field more confidently than before and to learn how to leverage social media tools. Martha Sklavos is convinced that her career is on the rise as she engages and learns from HBA members who have first-hand knowledge of healthcare industry careers, culture, and competition, a chance provided by HBA scholarship. She feels HBA is a welcoming place where she “fits.

WIScholarship recipients also took advantage of volunteering opportunities provided during the program year. Martha Sklavos volunteered for a Mid Atlantic Chapter WIS program (Breast Cancer Patient Advocacy event held in October 2013 in Washington DC) and was involved in planning program content, orchestrating the silent auction, assembling badges for the event, and coordinating onsite registration. Natalie Leach Stringer gained leadership experience by engaging with the Mid Atlantic Chapter WIS Programming Subcommittee to evaluate chapter demographic data. After reviewing reports generated from the HBA membership database and descriptions of WIS outreach event goals, Natalie leveraged her well-honed analytical skills to generate recommendations for development of program content to target both current and new HBA members. Natalie shares that this experience “was very helpful for her as volunteer recruitment and marketing of educational programming is important for her current position and she plans to use this skill in the future”.

How has the WIScholarship program supported professional growth and career advancement? Martha Sklavos’ career trajectory “has been converted into a clear path as opposed to the foggy, winding road she felt she was previously taking as she tried to figure it out” independently. HBA scholarship recipients had the opportunity to meet experienced women in the pharmaceutical industry, explore and consider challenges facing professional women, and learn more about initiatives and opportunities offered by the HBA. By exploring different career paths in pharmaceutical companies through informational interviews, Sonia Step successfully achieved her career goal of securing a position in industry marrying her scientific background and desire to learn more about the drug development process following completion of her PhD. Natalie Leach Stringer intends to use the experience she gained as a HBA scholarship winner for enhancing her career as an assistant professor and carry forward the learnings to her students.

Overall the pilot WIScholarship program was an enriching experience for the four recipients. The professional development program enabled each to evaluate their career trajectory, flourish and gain self awareness under guidance of their mentors, and build a robust professional network. The volunteering experiences enabled the women to fulfill the mantra of the HBA by giving back. The WIScholarship program is currently being evaluated and we hope to continue to offer it to future women with technical and scientific backgrounds and support them as they forge their own path in the healthcare industry.


The WIScience Scholarship: The Premier Catalyst for Developing Women Leaders in Science” was funded by the HBA Mid Atlantic Chapter.

The HBA Mid Atlantic WIS Affinity Group would like to thank the Mid Atlantic Executive Board and HBA staff members for their support and contributions in the creation and implementation of this program. Specifically, we would like to thank Lea Carey, Carol Meerschaert, Liz Stueck, Linda Brock, and Gina Wilkerson for their support and contributions to content of the program. In addition, a special thank you to the WIScholarship Program Mentors for sharing their time, guidance and wisdom: Gina Wilkerson, Laurie Hill, Heide Cunning, and Stacey Melquist.





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