“Empowering Women in Science” featuring Laure Woods, Class of ’80
After obtaining a B.S. in Animal Science from UC Davis, Laure Woods ’80 went on to a career in clinical research, working with pharmaceutical companies such as Matrix Pharmaceutical and Genelabs Technologies. She also founded her own consulting business to advise companies that test the safety and efficacy of medications, devices, diagnostic products, and treatment regimens intended for human use. Laure also formed a private foundation focused on the education, health, and welfare of children, and founded the LaureL STEM Fund, which led to her work with Santa Catalina’s robotics team.
HOW DID YOU HELP START THE PROJECT AT SANTA CATALINA? In 2017, I contacted the school with my desire to help fund an all-girls robotics team. This decision was driven by my experience at the FIRST Robotics competitions I attended with my daughter’s team. There were more boys than girls and one or no all-girls teams at the competitions. So of course I contacted my alma mater! I was so excited to learn that a group of students, led by Madison Gong ’18, had already formed a team and were using a room for their robotics lab in the Sister Claire and Sister Christine Mathematics and Science Center. I had recently started the LaureL STEM Fund as part of my family foundation, and one of our goals is to create more opportunities for young women in STEM. We were excited to partner with the Catalina robotics team—entirely driven by students.
Catalina has fielded an all-girls robotics team at FIRST Robotics competitions for the past three years. At the first competition they were in, Nuns-N-Bolts won the coveted Rookie All Star Award. This was a huge feat, considering there are about 60 teams at the competitions.
WHAT SPARKED YOUR INTEREST IN SUPPORTING WOMEN IN STEM? I’ve been interested in science since I was a little girl. I wanted to be a veterinarian. My mom knew I’d be best served in an all-girls school that would allow me the freedom to raise my hand with confidence, knowing I was as important as everyone else in the classroom. I was allowed to create and experiment in a safe and positive space. Teamwork was the norm. Looking back, I know my mom made the right decision.
Discovering the struggles my female friends and colleagues went through, being one of few or even the only women in their college STEM classes, made me determined to make a positive change for my daughter’s generation. My daughter was the captain of her robotics team and is now a mechanical engineering major in college. Clearing an easier path for her and her peers’ future is critical. If a girl’s innate interest in science and technology is not carefully stewarded by her schools and communities, she may not get as far or as fast to her goals, if at all. We need all of the talent we can get in these fields, and that will happen only by giving girls an empty slate and the tools, guidance, and encouragement to create something new.
HOW DID SANTA CATALINA PREPARE YOU FOR THE WORK YOU’RE DOING TODAY? Simply put, Santa Catalina taught me how to collaborate with, trust, and rely on my peers. My fellow classmates provided me with freedom and confidence to verbalize and act on my ideas. In 2009, I became sick with Lyme disease and was surprised by the dearth of research on and knowledge about this debilitating condition. There still is no cure. So in 2012, my friend Bonnie Crater (whose niece and nephew have Lyme disease), and I started the Bay Area Lyme Foundation. We were a small team of Girl Scout moms who collaborated around an idea to make change. We fund research, ecology, diagnostics, and novel therapeutics around Lyme disease across the country. Our mission is to make Lyme disease easy to diagnose and simple to cure. This foundation is one of my proudest accomplishments, and the model of sisterhood that I grew up with helped me create a strong, healthy (women-run) organization in Silicon Valley.
WHAT ELSE CAN YOU TELL US? The upcoming generation, more than any in history, will depend on technology. Having top-notch teachers and resources at their fingertips will equip them with what the society will require of them. The in-depth knowledge they gain, coupled with solid values of empathy, sharing, and fairness that Santa Catalina instills, will be one of the most important things these young women take with them in their lives—and into the world.
Finally, I would urge families and friends of Catalina’s students to come to the students’ competitions, fairs, and meets. Attending STEM competitions is just as important as attending sports competitions. There is nothing better than hearing cheers and rustling pom-poms in the stands during a tough competition!