Scientistas in the Spotlight: Holly Gerzina, Ph.D.

Scientista is a national organization that works to empower the women of this country who are interested or currently involved in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). Students in NEOMED’s chapter have interviewed four very special Scientistas who have been generous enough to share their stories with the community. We hope everyone is able use these stories as a source of empowerment and encouragement to succeed in the field of STEM!

When and why did she first become interested in STEM?

Dr. Gerzina’s passion for science developed during her middle school years. A natural fascination with biology, health, and how life works motivated her to push the boundaries of the field and explore. Her high school mentor served as an additional source of motivation. In fact, her first mentor was a male teacher with a passion for teaching anatomy and physiology and promoting women’s interest and success in the field. Dr. Gerzina admired his passion and dedication to the field and aspired to be just as strong in the future. Encouraged by extremely supportive parents, Dr. Gerzina has always had her eye on accomplishing whatever it was she wanted to do. Blessed with this support system, she never felt that she shouldn’t enter the field of science because of her gender.

How did she get to where she is as a successful woman in STEM?

At the Ohio State University, Dr. Gerzina became involved in engineering physics and decided that wasn’t for her. She later joined the microbiology laboratory team, where she did translational bench-to-bedside research on cystic fibrosis. Dr. Gerzina radiated passion as she discussed the logistics of this project, clearly portraying its impact on her admiration of STEM. She continued her graduate and biomedical education at the University of Cincinnati but developed a newfound passion for the behavioral and social sciences. She had completed several graduate courses in counseling psychology when she was offered a job at NEOMED involving standardized patients and performance-based assessment in simulation. Accepting the position not only allowed her to combine a love of science, math, and psychosocial sciences; it also provided her first exposure to a career in medical education. Getting to dabble in all these opportunities at NEOMED motivated her to obtain not only a master’s degree in evaluation and measurement but also a Ph.D. in health education and health promotion at Kent State University. Although she stated numerous times that working at NEOMED really complemented what she was learning at school, her commitment to school and work is truly admirable, to say the least!

Did she face any challenges as a woman in STEM? How did she overcome these challenges?

Dr. Gerzina is extremely grateful to her parents and mentors, both female and male, for encouraging her, challenging her, and serving as her role models. Growing up, she always felt confident to go into science, technology, math or any other field she felt was right for her. She feels so fortunate to have people who were forward-thinking and encouraging. She expressed the importance for all women interested in STEM to find and connect with encouraging role models and a network of mentors.

What advice does she have for Scientistas like us who wish to be successful in the field of STEM?

“Certain doors have been opened over the years. Certain barriers have been removed, but some still remain and you have to find a mentor in the field who can help or sponsor you as you advance in this field,” Dr. Gerzina stated. She stressed the importance of putting yourself out there to explore and meet people who have goals, views and a work ethic that is similar to yours. Taking risks, creating connections with other Scientistas and having mentors is crucial for women in STEM so they can persevere and get past the inequalities when times are tough, she said. Dr. Gerzina also calls for organizations at NEOMED, like Scientista, to serve as mentors to high school and middle school girls via outreach programs.

Why does she think it's important to advocate for STEM as a woman and to spark that interest in young women within our generation?

Dr. Gerzina believes advocating for women in STEM is crucial to the success of virtually any field. Having diversity in the field of STEM leads to more knowledge and insight, more problems being solved and a broader set of strengths and skills that can all be combined to solve life-changing issues. Additionally, she stresses how important it is to empower young scientists to work collaboratively to advance STEM, regardless of gender.

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