A nanoscientist bonds with women in Africa over STEM

Three women standing in meeting room (State Dept./D.A. Peterson)
Teresa Williams (center) at a recent event at the United States Diplomacy Center, with the center's director, Mary Kane, (right) and Marie Royce, assistant secretary in the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (State Dept./D.A. Peterson)

As a child, Teresa Williams was good at math, but she never considered a career in the field until she took a chemistry class at a community college and saw a woman in science in action.

That teacher motivated her, and today Williams is a nanoscientist who holds patents for cancer research. “I saw myself in her,” Williams said.

When she isn’t in the lab, Williams often travels around the globe to champion science, technology, engineering and mathematics to women and girls. Recent trips included Egypt and Kenya through a U.S. Department of State program.

She also hosted women scientists from Kenya, South Africa and Tunisia in California at the famed Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory when she worked as a chemistry researcher.

The women bonded over science. They planned experiments, worked side by side in the laboratory and built trust with stories they shared.

“There was such a commonality and a sisterhood in the experiences that we all shared navigating our education and our careers as women in STEM,” Williams said during a panel discussion at the U.S. Diplomacy Center on the topic, which included a NASA official and other female scientists.

Williams, like many women, has been put in the difficult position of choosing her education and career over personal relationships. She said she also faced various forms of sexism in STEM, a male-dominated sector.

Despite the challenges, in her 17-year career as a researcher, Williams has authored 23 peer-reviewed publications and presented her work overseas.

Currently, she is in the midst of a yearlong fellowship on Capitol Hill, offered through the American Association for the Advancement of Science. As a congressional science and engineering fellow, she is learning about and helping draft legislation governing U.S. science policy.

Her advice: “Stay curious … it’s OK to change your mind.”

This article was written by freelance writer Lenore T. Adkins.