Spotlight: Susan Babinec

July 2022 Edition

Susan Babinec, Project Lead, Stationary Storage, ACCESS
Anyone who follows sports has likely heard the advice, “the best defense is a good offense.” It’s a pithy way to encourage athletes to take control of the pace of a game and not sit around waiting to react or change direction.

Susan Babinec, project lead of stationary storage in PSE’s ACCESS division and a competitive athlete, seems to have adopted this attitude and applied it to a long, varied and successful career in science, even when the scientific field wasn’t especially diverse.

“In the 1980s, women in science were very significantly disadvantaged due to gender,” said Babinec. “I just kept going and never used discrimination as an excuse for not pursuing my interests and achieving my goals.”

Sports, it turned out, were a simple but key way to connect with male colleagues.

“I love talking about sports,” said Babinec, who put herself through school and earned a master’s degree in chemistry and electrochemistry from the University of Wisconsin. “It did help me relate to male colleagues in a friendly and familiar way. It was natural for me.”

Today, Babinec works out daily (preferably outdoors), playing tennis, swimming, running and using her rowing machine inside during the worst weather. She hasn’t ruled out the possibility of training for a triathlon someday. Babinec is also a lifelong musician, having begun playing classical piano when she was very young.  She cultivates this passion with her husband and they attend concerts year-round, including favorites during the summers at Millennium Park and Grant Park. She is ever mindful of dedicating time to family and friends she holds dear.

“I always aspire to do a better job balancing my personal life and my work life,” she said. “There are a lot of distractions and I am very focused on my work, but you have to prioritize and make time for what is most important. Be very attentive to friends and family; call your friends, stay engaged, don’t get disconnected. Personally, I ‘walk the talk,’ which means I am always chatting with someone when I’m walking outside”

At Argonne, Babinec develops and implements high-impact technologies that can help slow climate change and ultimately result in a deeply decarbonized world.

She had no mentors in science during college. In fact she was frequently and openly discouraged.  However that changed once she entered the workforce, where she connected well with several senior male scientists who counseled her over many years. She has seen a real improvement for women in science and technology within the past 15 years or so.

“I don’t think the path I walked has much to do with women today,” she said. “It’s important for women to have other women to talk to and relate to, but I wouldn’t limit the possibilities and benefits of a good mentor to women. Some men can be as supportive as women.”

Babinec said she mentors several women and cares about them and their careers deeply, but she warns them they need to be realistic.

“This can be a very demanding career,” she said.

 

Spotlight: Maria Chan

July 2022 Edition

Maria Chan, Computational scientist, PSE
One of the biggest barriers to women achieving their dreams can be the stereotypical expectations of others. This was the case for Maria Chan, a computational scientist in the Center for Nanoscale Materials (CNM) in the Physical Sciences and Engineering (PSE) directorate.

“My parents did not expect me to become a scientist, my math teacher in high school said I was ‘pretty good for a girl’, and some professors expressed surprise that I was good at physics,” said Chan. “One manager was startled that I work in theory and modeling. Another colleague told me that women should not be managers. I am not sure I have overcome these attitudes; it’s a work in progress.”

To motivate herself, Chan leans on her intrinsic need to solve puzzles, a desire to help accelerate scientific discovery, and the exciting potential for solving societal problems.

Chan uses quantum mechanical simulations and artificial intelligence/machine learning to understand and design materials. She enjoys the interdisciplinary nature of her work at Argonne, and its many collaborations.

“We bring together physics, chemistry, materials science, applied math, statistics, and other perspectives and approaches,” she explained.

Chan was inspired at a young age to pursue physics when she read a book on special relativity in her native Chinese. The book introduced her to the enticing idea that logical reasoning and mathematics can be used to carry out scientific thought experiments.  “Counter to stereotypes, scientists don’t all wear lab coats and handle test tubes,” Chan said.    When she inquired about a research position as an undergraduate, she faced mostly rejections, and one professor told her, “You know, not everyone can do research.” Fortunately, she found mentors in notable professors Nina Byers at UCLA and later Millie Dresselhaus at MIT, who made a point of encouraging her and other women to pursue physics. “Without their support, I cannot imagine being able to become a scientist,” said Chan.

The best professional advice she thinks she received came from her PhD advisor who pointed out to her how important it is to avoid a defensive reaction when someone criticizes her work. “If the reviewer did not seem to understand the merits of our work, that means we could have explained it better,” said Chan. “We need to think about it from the other person’s perspective and address their concerns.”

 

Spotlight: JoAnn (Joni) Garcia

May 2022 Edition

JoAnn Garcia

JoAnn (Joni) Garcia, Physical Therapy Assistant
Joni Garcia had only flown on an airplane one other time when she flew from south Texas to begin college at the University of Chicago in September 2001. Within two years, deeply moved by the events of September 11, Garcia left her undergraduate studies to enlist in the U.S. Air Force.

“I went in ready to do whatever was asked,” said Garcia, a Physical Therapy Assistant (PTA) in Argonne’s Health and Employee Wellness center.

After taking an aptitude test, the Air Force identified jobs in which it thought Garcia could excel and serve. She chose Physical Medicine Technician. Garcia learned the equivalent of a two-year associate’s degree in four-months, and then headed to Langley Air Force Base in Virginia. There, she provided physical therapy support to members of all branches of the armed services

Garcia rose to the rank of Technical Sargent (TSgt) and she still serves today with a deployable hospital unit near Saint Louis. She is also an invited speaker who encourages enlisted service members to obtain their civilian Physical Therapy Assistant license while they are still in the military. For many who enlist and keep re-enlisting, checking a civilian licensure box may seem superfluous. However, Garcia says the license is required (and acts as a significant threshold for higher salaries) once a person leaves the armed services and tries to find work.

“No one can take your education away from you,” she said. As a person of humble economic beginnings, she empathizes with those who shoulder student loans. Garcia cites student debt as the number one challenge she faced in developing a professional career. Today, she is earning her Master’s of Business Administration degree through a military-funded scholarship program.

At Argonne since 2013, Garcia employs her extensive training in orthopedics and ergonomics to help laboratory employees recover from musculoskeletal injuries or surgeries.

“When employees come to us, they need our help to get better,” she said. “If someone is thinking about a shoulder injury they developed over the weekend instead of their science, we are losing valuable minutes and hours they could be spending on their work. The sooner I can help people get better, the sooner they can get back to whatever they do at the Lab.”

Garcia credits two people in her life for shaping her professional identity. First, she cites her mother Ysabel, “a beautiful soul,” who worked for many years as a dedicated teacher’s assistant for children with significant disabilities. Second, she recalls a TSgt in the Air Force who modeled a whole-heartedly personal approach to patient care.

“People used to give him a hard time because he’d stay late to write notes after patient visits,” she remembered. “He didn’t want to spend time taking notes while he was with them. You can be the top student in your class, but patients need to know you care about their personal health and wellness. I’m 100% invested in my patients and getting them back to their best as quickly as possible.”

2022 SCSW Founders Award Recipient

Amanda Joyce Selected as the 2022 SCSW Founders Award Recipient

Amanda Joyce
Group Leader, Strategic Cybersecurity Analysis & Research
SSS Division 

 

Please join Argonne’s Women in Science & Technology (WIST) program in congratulating Amanda Joyce on being selected as the recipient of the 2022 Science Careers in Search of Women (SCSW) Founders Award! Established in 2007, this award honors individuals who have demonstrated a lifetime commitment to mentoring women and to advancing women leadership and career opportunities in the sciences and engineering, because “the future depends on what we do in the present” (Gandhi).

Amanda has been a part of the Argonne community for over 10 years, and throughout her time, she has continuously demonstrated her commitment to the advancement of women in science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics (STEAM fields) . She has been a member of the WIST community for many years and for the past three years, Amanda has served as Co-Chair for Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day (IGED); an event focused on inspiring 8th grade girls to consider a future in STEAM. Her outreach for this event included hundreds of girls across the U.S., especially with the latest versions taking place virtually due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Amanda’s positive energy is contagious, and her mentorship and leadership skills are invaluable in motivating girls and young women to pursue and persevere in STEAM careers. Through her extraordinary effort, Amanda models Argonne’s Core Values (Impact, Safety, Respect, Integrity, & Teamwork) and advances the mission of the WIST Program. Amanda, thank you for being an approachable role model to the future women leaders in STEAM.

Spotlight: Janell Piechocinski

May 2022 Edition

Janell PiechocinskiJanell Piechocinski, Construction & University R&D Procurement (FMP-PRO)

Growing up, Janelle Piechocinski watched her father transform simple pieces of wood into exquisite cabinetry and other products. That workshop-level understanding of woodworking and the business side of construction served her well when she began working in Argonne’s Procurement group in 2004.

“At first, I was an administrative assistant but my early exposure to the construction industry provided a unique foundation of understanding that I expanded upon,” said Piechocinski, who built upon a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration with a Master of Business Administration degree in 2008.

Today, Piechocinski is Argonne’s Construction and University Research and Development Procurement Manager. She facilitates acquisitions of services and materials that attract brilliant individuals from universities around the world to advance cutting-edge research endeavors at Argonne. She also helps the laboratory renovate or construct the facilities in which this research will occur.

“It is so satisfying to see the results of the construction contracts that I author,” said Piechocinski. “That’s truly paramount to me. At the end of the day, I know that those I interact with can rely on me to help them achieve their goals, which in turn helps me achieve mine.”

An innate motivation to help and to contribute to the happiness and success of others has proved most powerful when Piechocinski pairs it with an unwavering commitment to answering the “why” behind large problems or questions.

“I have come to learn that the first glimpse of a problem/situation is sometimes only a small fragment of the larger issue,” said Piechocinski. “It’s important to take time to understand “why” so that the level of rework is less.”

“Anything that is ‘worth it’ takes time to build,” she added.

A hobby florist who also enjoys landscape design, Piechocinski continuously seeks ways to improve her work-life balance and takes time to be mindful of each stage of life.

“It’s as important to know your own strengths as it is to recognize your weaknesses,” she said. “I know that what I want to achieve is pivotal to feeling successful in both.”