A UW researcher was honored at the White House Friday for her work to provide more opportunities for women and underrepresented minorities in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
Angela Byars-Winston, a researcher in the Department of Medicine and Public Health, was among 12 individuals recognized as Champions of Change as part of President Barack Obama’s Winning the Future Across America initiative to recognize educators, innovators and community leaders finding creative ways to improve quality of life across the nation, according to a statement from UW.
Byars-Winston said her time in Washington, D.C., consisted of a workshop with White House officials and administrators from the Office of Science and Technology Policy to address the challenges and solutions for women interested in science-related careers.
Senior Advisor to the President Valerie Jarrett greeted the honorees and listened as each person gave a brief description of their work, which was streamed live on the White House website, Byars-Winston said.
Byars-Winston was nominated for the award by the National Alliance for Partnerships in Equity and the National Girls Collaborative Project. She said her research focuses on the cultural aspects of science and technology fields that affect how students of underrepresented populations negotiate their direct experience in STEM-related fields with the perceived pressure to represent not only themselves as individuals but also their ethnic or racial background.
“Part of my research shows that we all experience barriers, white males included,” Byars-Winston said. “It’s just the type of barriers that may differ because of our culture.”
Byars-Winston said her research also highlights how cultural components can contribute to the nature of a work environment.
One factor she has examined is ‘cultural competence’ – the comfort working with members outside one’s own ethnic group – which can become salient for women and ethnic minority members beyond mere ability or competence to succeed when considering the context of the environment.
“Every time Angela opens her mouth, it transforms my view of the world,” Dr. Molly Carnes, a UW professor in the School of Medicine and Public Health, said in an email to The Badger Herald. “She is truly a visionary, and she has the knowledge and skills to engage others in advancing that vision with a theoretically-informed, evidence-based approach.”
Byars-Winston said she was humbled by the distinguished honor, which serves as a testament to the legitimate nature of research on racial, minority and gender issues.
Mentoring and career counseling have been fields dominated by anecdotal evidence, she said, and her goal has been to produce solid evidence that researchers and practitioners can use to understand how cultural elements come into play, and how one can use that information for the greater good.
Dr. Richard Page, chair of the Department of Medicine, said in an email to The Badger Herald that the department is “tremendously proud” of Byars-Winston’s accomplishment and emphasized the importance of her work focusing on underrepresented minorities.
“Dr. Byars-Winston studies the obstacles for women and minorities in developing careers in science and technology [and] with the results of her studies, I believe our nation can begin to correct the underrepresentation of these individuals in the scientific workforce,” he said.