Thoughts on Women’s Equality Day, August 26th, 2023

The 19th amendment empowered women to stand up and vote for what they believed in, and forever changed the landscape of our society. The impact of women’s access to vote in 1920 cast ripples through time and contributed to where we are today. Women now have the freedom to pursue higher education, the ability to become scientists and engineers, and the independence to choose their futures.

So, what is Women’s Equality Day, and why is it celebrated on August 26?

The roots of Women’s Equality Day started in 1945. Proclamation 2671, written by President Harry S. Truman, designated November 2 as Women’s Enfranchisement Day in honor of the 25th anniversary of the first election in which women were allowed to vote.  Unfortunately, this date did not gain any traction, and it wasn’t until years later that the 19th amendment was again recognized by a president.

In 1973, Congresswomen Bella Abzug, Shirley Chisholm, and Patsy Mink pressured Congress and the president to celebrate women’s achievements and recognize the progress of women’s equality. They persisted, they fought for their beliefs, and they cast ripples through time.

Proclamation 4236, written by President Richard Nixon, officially declared August 26 as Women’s Equality Day. The day marked the anniversary of Secretary of State Bainbridge Colby signing the document granting American women the constitutional right to vote.

The persistence, the determination, and the tenacity of those women solidified our place in history.

“While we are making great strides to eliminate outright job discrimination because of sex in the Federal Government, we must recognize that people’s attitudes cannot be changed by laws alone. We must do all that we can to overcome these barriers against what is fair and right.” (Nixon, Proclamation 4236)

These words still apply today. Attitudes cannot be changed by laws alone. Attitudes are changed through educating our peers, reaching out to our communities, and reminding young girls that they can be whatever they want to be when they grow up.

The Department of Energy national laboratories recognize the call to action to promote and retain women in science and technology. Each year, Argonne hosts several outreach events for grade school and high school girls to educate them on the possibilities of pursuing a STEM education and overcoming barriers. These events open doors to a career path they may not have thought possible.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of Women’s Equality Day. Since 1973, each U.S. President has formally written a proclamation recognizing August 26 to commemorate this monumental milestone in women’s history. As we continue our journey toward equality and diversification, let us stand up for what we believe in and cast ripples into the next century.

If you are interested in learning more to support women in science and technology, please join wisttalk or reach out to Program Initiator Rebecca Yassan.


A Message from the Outgoing WIST Program Initiator, Lauren Boldon

I’m thrilled to announce that the next WIST Program Initiator (PI) will be transitioning into the position during the month of August with an official start date in September! I’m confident that WIST will continue to thrive and progress the mission and Argonne’s culture further under this new leadership. While I’m very excited to see the direction the next PI takes, this time is also bittersweet for me, especially as I look back on all that WIST has accomplished and worked towards during the two years of my term in the role.

When I first became the WIST PI, we started by conducting focus group interviews and an overarching program management review to better understand the perceptions of WIST, program management needs, and the development of informed short- and long-term objectives. The results of these sessions, combined with WIST’s mission and the input of many WIST contributors, led to the development of campaigns in the following areas:

  1. Increase visibility of the program mission across other DEIA efforts, with Argonne leadership and all employees;
  2. Integrate and collaborate with relevant laboratory stakeholders, especially the Argonne Leadership Institute, Educational Programs, and the Employee Resource Groups (ERGs);
  3. Influence outcomes of laboratory policy discussions relevant to WIST and broader DEIA objectives; and
  4. Enhance professional growth and networking opportunities to promote and develop women at the Lab.

To these ends, I’m so pleased with the progress made on all four fronts, and this is in no doubt due to all the support provided to WIST from across the Lab, but especially from our In-Reach and Outreach Subcommittees, the Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day (IGED) and Science Careers in Search of Women (SCSW) Organizing Committees, and in particular the Co-Chairs of all these groups. What is truly impressive is WIST affected change in all four of the areas listed, while conducting very successful in-person IGED and SCSW outreach events to hundreds of female students in the Chicagoland area and beyond!

In terms of visibility, we saw a large expansion in interest in both subcommittees, enabling us to identify more challenges and opportunities and to develop creative approaches and solutions to them. Some of the most visible results include a refreshed WIST website, a new bimonthly e-newsletter with a Women@Argonne Spotlight Series, and rebranding of WIST materials and messaging to Open to All to enhance engagement across the entire Lab. WIST also actively engaged in broader DEIA discussions with the ERGs, DEIA Councils, Lab Leadership, and ALI, bringing the outcomes and results of those interactions to bear in collaborative discussion about  what WIST should pursue and how to best leverage laboratory resources to do so.

In terms of integration and collaboration, WIST connected directly with Institutional Partnerships STEM Education team and the Hispanic Latino Club (HLC) and Argonne African American (AAA) ERGs to develop a new joint outreach event to underrepresented students in Chicago Public Schools. See Yourself in STEAM is taking place in November 2023, and I am grateful to the STEM Education team for their expertise in engaging with students as well as their community engagement analysis of the Chicagoland area to help us develop an engaging program. I look forward to seeing these partnerships grow as WIST plans future outreach events, such as Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day (IGED) and Science Careers in Search of Women (SCSW).

In terms of Laboratory policy impact, WIST raised issues surrounding (1) equity in attribution for patents and publications that led to participation in broader research integrity discussions and the provision of recommendations for standardizing expectations across all Laboratory facilities; and (2) the inclusion of DEIA into the performance review process that led to WIST’s development of specific guidance that was discussed in detail senior laboratory leadership, ALI, and HR. We will continue to advocate in these areas and others, as is part of our mission.

Finally, WIST launched several professional development and networking opportunities, including the year long Mentoring Circles program focused on small-group peer-to-peer mentoring, and the WIST Podcast Discussion Series, focused on mental/emotional health related topics and in partnership with HEW.

As my term as WIST PI comes to an end, I would like to personally thank all the individuals that brought concerns and challenges forward, formulated ideas, developed and worked towards solutions that WIST could push forward, and coordinated and managed our complex outreach events. WIST is very much a program that requires individual contributions of time and expertise, as well as continued joint efforts and partnerships. I look forward to seeing what all of WISTs contributors will do in the future!


Lauren Boldon

Spotlight: Paulina Rychenkova

March 2023 Edition

Paulina Rychenkova, Senior Innovation and Commercialization Manager, STPO

Paulina Rychenkova builds on her versatile background—spanning a PhD in theoretical physics, management consulting, and many years of venture investing in technology, software, and health tech companies—as senior innovation and commercialization manager in the Science and Technology Partnerships and Outreach (S&TPO) Directorate at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory.

She supports Argonne researchers in capturing and managing intellectual property from their work and facilitating interactions between Argonne scientists and collaborators outside the lab, such as those in industry, academia and other organizations. In addition, she leads Argonne in Chicago, the lab’s strategic program for inclusive innovation in support of regional economic development.

“What I like best about my role is interacting with brilliant researchers at Argonne, and the ability to apply my business acumen together with my scientific background in support of collaborative research activities,” Rychenkova said. “Also, in the context of my Argonne in Chicago role, I believe in doing the right thing: facilitating more productive and mutually meaningful interactions between the lab, its people and resources, the Chicago innovation ecosystem, and communities on the south side of Chicago.”

Rychenkova, who was born and raised in Russia, earned a bachelor of science degree in mathematics and physics at Hope College in Michigan, as well as a master’s degree and PhD in theoretical physics at Cambridge University in the United Kingdom.

While at Cambridge, Rychenkova conducted research in the General Relativity Group, which was headed at the time by the acclaimed physicist and author Stephen Hawking. While Hawking was not her PhD supervisor, she had many interactions with him around her doctoral thesis and presented at various seminars which he attended.

During her time at Cambridge University, Rychenkova lived and worked at Trinity College and, in that context, had the honor of meeting and conversing with Queen Elizabeth II and her husband, Prince Philip, the duke of Edinburgh, when they visited the campus.

In 2018, Rychenkova became the business development executive in Argonne’s S&TPO. While her role has since expanded, she firmly believes in staying true to your interests and passion and you will persevere.

“Don’t underestimate the value of your professional experiences and what you bring to a new role or organization,” she said.

Rychenkova draws her motivation from her daughters, ages 15 and 12. Her oldest daughter lives with a rare neurodevelopmental genetic disease called Phelan-McDermid syndrome. It is a rare genetic condition that causes global developmental delays and does not at present have a cure. In addition to pursuing her professional interests at Argonne, Rychenkova dedicates her free time to advocacy activities in search for a disease-modifying treatment for Phelan-McDermid Syndrome.

“I especially appreciated the grace I received from my colleagues at Argonne and the entire organization during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic,” she said. At the time the lab instituted a policy of vacation day donations to help out employees with significant caregiving responsibilities.

If she could provide one piece of advice to inspire young women interested in pursuing STEM careers, she would urge them to have confidence that they belong there.

“At present, there is more support from all corners for women to pursue STEM careers than ever before,” she said. “So, look for mentors along the way and go for it.”

She encourages women scientists and engineers in their early career stages to find a leadership model in their organization, whether it is a female or a male colleague, and seek out a mentor-mentee relationship.

“You can learn a lot from real-world mentors,” she said.



Spotlight: Deena Wright

March 2023 Edition

Deena Wright, Senior Program Specialist, STPO

Wright finds herself at home among the ‘magic’ of Argonne

Deena Wright, a senior program specialist in the Science and Technology Partnerships and Outreach (STPO) directorate, has moved several times over the years. But Argonne National Laboratory is her home, where she remains fascinated by its “magic.”

“There are so many things to love about my role,” said Wright. “But knowing that my contributions support the science and entrepreneurs who are the change-makers for our environmental stability, improvement and longevity—that is where the magic happens—and that truly makes it special.”

Wright facilitates programming for the innovators in Chain Reaction Innovations (CRI), an entrepreneurship program that embeds clean energy and climate tech start-up companies at the lab for about two years to help them de-risk and scale their technologies. Wright helps these innovators learn how to be entrepreneurs.

In addition, Wright is the program lead for Students for Energy and Entrepreneurial Development (SEED), a new internship program. CRI piloted SEED last summer and aims to launch the program this fall. This internship is designed to support undergrad students from minority-serving institutions in the Chicago area. They will be coached in entrepreneurial and business development skills and paired with CRI start-up companies for real-life experiences.

“They are astoundingly bright scientists already, but learning about business, project management, finance, marketing, pitching, and more are sometimes new and challenging for them,” said Wright. “CRI is here to help them develop as entrepreneurs by providing foundational knowledge in business areas. My role is developing the programming they participate in.”

The magic she sees involves such startups as Meati Foods, where they turn mycelium (the root network of mushrooms) into sustainable proteins, and ClearFlame Engine Technologies, which designed a modification for diesel engines so they can use cleaner fuels, like ethanol, to reduce emissions.

Wright started at Argonne in 2010 as an administrative assistant. She worked at Argonne for about eight years before being invited to interview with CRI as its strategic operations lead. She joined the team and continues to grow in her current role.

“I had no idea what CRI had in store for me at the time, but what a happy accident to have landed directly in a field that I didn’t know I was so passionate about—clean energy and climate tech,” Wright said. “My inspiration now comes from the innovators in CRI—their passion, drive and creativity.”

Wright’s experience has proven that science is like magic, but real.

“Don’t base your opinions of science on what you’ve learned in school,” Wright said. “I know that sounds odd, but science is so much more than the basic level you may have been exposed to in middle school and high school. It’s amazing and powerful, and although it can be complicated, you can do it. Many times, the reason people ‘don’t like science’ is because they didn’t have the right teacher. Give it a chance and you might be surprised at just how remarkably interesting it can be!”

Wright believes that if you’re working towards leadership roles it’s useful to study other leaders who you aspire to be like.

“Watch how they handle situations and manage people,” she said. “When you’re ready, which is sooner than you’ll think, go for it. Don’t doubt yourself because you’re likely capable of more than you’re giving yourself credit for.”

Wright was born in Tampa, Florida, and moved more than 30 times in her life, because her father worked around the country as a troubleshooter for his company. She now lives in Oswego with her husband, Rob Wright, a mechanical engineering specialist with the Advanced Photon Source (APS) at Argonne, and her daughter and son, who are twins. She also has two stepsons.

Wright took off a few years when her twins were born, which complicated her efforts to re-enter the workforce, despite being a college graduate with work experience. Overcoming that barrier meant being relentless and not giving up. She started in lower-level positions to get a foot in the door, and worked hard to move forward, she said.

“I don’t regret my decision to take those years off when they were born, and I would choose the same path again,” Wright said.

Success feels good—it is a natural motivator on its own and tends to breed more success, said Wright.

“Like everyone, I have goals in life and being successful generally leads to some of those goals being met,” she said.

Most of all, she believes you should enjoy what you do.

“It may not be your destination but finding enjoyment in what you’re doing will make your days feel more fulfilling,” Wright said. “If you truly can’t find enjoyment in any facet of what you’re doing, it’s probably a sign to move on.”