Student Spotlight: Karen Antonio, Chemistry and Biochemistry

Author: Mary Hendriksen

Karen Antonio  investigates molecular interactions and organization within biological cells Using a special technique, called Raman scattering, Karen Antonio, Chemistry and Biochemistry Graduate Student, investigates molecular interactions and organization within biological cells.

Chemistry and Biochemistry Graduate Student Karen Antonio has been twice honored during her graduate school career—once for her research and once for her leadership in promoting women in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields.

With respect to her research, in 2012, Karen won a highly competitive National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Program Fellowship (GRFP) to support her work investigating molecular interactions and organization within biological cells. Under the direction of Prof. Zachary Schultz, Karen uses a specialized technique, called Raman scattering, to provide chemical-specific information about samples without the need of a dye or stain. This technique is one important way to detect, monitor, and analyze behavior at the molecular level so that researchers may address current issues in the biomedical field.

“The NSF fellowship has provided me with the flexibility to pursue collaborative research efforts and attend fascinating conferences,” Karen says. The SciX (Scientific eXchange) conference was particularly enlightening in that it is a week-long conference geared toward analytical chemistry and spectroscopy. I was able to meet and network with scholars in my field and learn more about my line of research.”

With respect to her leadership, this past spring (2014), Karen was awarded Notre Dame’s Sister Jean Lenz, O.S.F., Leadership Award for her work in promoting and connecting women in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields. This award shows how her vision for science extends to the work of fellow students as well.

“I have been very fortunate in my graduate career to have such a supportive advisor and department,” Karen explains. “My advocacy for women in STEM comes from listening to the struggles of others and wanting everyone to be knowledgeable about resources available on and off campus. Graduate school may give you the training and skills you need to have a successful career in STEM, but mentorship and networking from female faculty and fellow graduate students will give you the support and self-confidence necessary to push through the obstacles that a female scientist may face in STEM fields.”

The path to Karen’s award began when, on behalf of the Notre Dame chapter of the Association for Women In Science (AWIS-ND), she took the lead on two Grad Life Grants (jointly sponsored by the Office of Student Affairs, the Graduate School, and the Graduate Student Union) to increase outreach and communication among women in STEM fields at the University. In collaboration with AWIS-ND and the Graduate Society of Women Engineers, funds from the Grad Life grants, along with funds from the Colleges of Engineering and Science, were used to organize monthly lunch sessions for women in STEM devoted to professional development and networking. Graduate students and postdocs, along with faculty and staff, heard and critiqued brief research presentations, and learned about campus resources available to women in STEM fields.

“Karen’s efforts at Notre Dame echo larger movements nationally and internationally to address the shortage of women in STEM disciplines,” says Laura Carlson, Vice President, Associate Provost, and Dean of the Graduate School. “The aim of these efforts is to build stronger communities among women scientists. Karen’s leadership has significantly improved the climate for young female scientists and engineers at Notre Dame, and she has been foundational in creating a lasting and supportive network.”

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