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The Margaret Cuninggim Women’s Center Leadership Award honors an undergraduate or graduate student who demonstrates leadership in activities that contribute to the achievements, interests and goals of women or that promote gender equity. This year, Samantha Schaffner, a Ph.D. student in the department of biological sciences, was presented with the award.
Schaffner has been involved in various efforts to involve underrepresented groups in STEM. One of her recommenders praises her “genuine commitment to improving accessibility in the STEM pipeline for all individuals.” As a leader and volunteer for the School for Science and Math at Vanderbilt, Schaffner has designed and implemented a curriculum aimed at demystifying scientific literature for high school STEM scholars. In her work as a mentor for START (STEM Transition and Retention), Schaffner has worked closely with undergraduate students who are learning how to navigate the world of STEM at the university level. One of her nominators explains: “Sam has directly helped students find a research lab and encouraged them, giving them the confidence they needed to email and meet with prospective lab heads.” Another recommender states: “Sam has focused all her extracurricular efforts on helping others in STEM. Perhaps what is most impressive about Sam is that despite her many leadership roles and efforts, Sam has remained humble, caring and empathic—Sam is unique in this regard.”
The Mentoring Award honors members of the Vanderbilt University community who foster the professional and intellectual development of Vanderbilt women. This year, three people are being recognized.
The first recipient of the Mentoring Award is Jonathan Gilligan, associate professor of earth and environmental sciences and of civil and environmental engineering. One nominator writes: “I have been at Vanderbilt for over two decades and have not encountered anyone who cares more deeply about mentoring women, has had more success in doing so and better meets the requirements for this award.” Several nominators attest to Gilligan’s ability to connect people across campus with overlapping research interests. Other nominators speak to Gilligan’s commitment to treating everyone with respect: “[H]e is patient, approachable and supportive,” one letter states, regardless of the person’s level of expertise. Another letter of support states that Gilligan “brings a truly unique kindness and deliberate commitment to equity and inclusion to his mentorship.”
The second recipient of the Mentoring Award is Joanne Golann, assistant professor of public policy and education. One of her nominators describes Golann as “an intellectual force of nature who is also kind and genuinely cares about the people around her.” During the
early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, Golann created the Graduate Women of Color group in her department, which later expanded across Peabody to provide a space for women of color to share experiences, struggles and advice. Nominators describe this group as a place “where students can feel safe, heard and understood.” One graduate student nominator explains that Golann “makes you feel like you can do anything—there is limitless possibility in your ideas and in your career path ahead. At the same time, she exhibits some of the best qualities of a great mentor in that she never imposes her own ideas onto you—she deeply probes and asks you what you really want, what your knowledge goals are.”
The third recipient of the Mentoring Award is Christina West, associate vice chancellor for federal relations. West’s nominators praise her “subtle” style of mentorship, noting her strong ability to listen to her team members and to provide “space for us to be heard.” As one recommender notes, West “gave me autonomy, authority and responsibility and, therefore, the tools I needed to succeed and the room to grow.” Many of her nominators refer to West’s interest in the individual growth and professional development of her staff. In one case, a nominator writes that West supported her career advancement, even though it meant that West would lose a valued member of her team. Another recommender stated: “Christina is a huge champion of each individual’s strengths and achievements, and she is quick to share praise: When someone on her team has taken the laboring oar on a project or is the expert on a particular topic, she highlights those individuals’ contributions.”
The Mary Jane Werthan Award is presented annually to someone who has contributed significantly to the advancement of women at Vanderbilt University. The award honors three qualities characteristic of the first recipient for whom it is named: vision, persistence and extraordinary skill in interpersonal and institutional relations.
This year’s winner of the Mary Jane Werthan Award is Katherine Crawford, Cornelius Vanderbilt Professor of History and Women’s and Gender Studies and director of the Department of Gender and Sexuality Studies. Described as “fair and judicious and sensitive to equity” by one nominator, Crawford has worked tirelessly for more than a decade to build gender and sexuality studies into a department. Another nominator writes that this ongoing effort has involved “pleading for resources, shouting for recognition, advocating for the students and faculty.” This nominator refers to Crawford as an “agitator in the very best sense of the word”: she is “the person who will ‘punch up’ when the forces of bureaucracy that differentially affect women and people of color are punching down.” Another nominator emphasizes Crawford’s “lighthearted approach” amid this struggle and difficult work, saying that she is a “genius at striking just the right tone to inspire, guide and advocate for women across the university. She is a gift to those who know her and those who have benefited from her determined efforts to make the university a better place for women and, indeed, everyone.”