Advancing Inclusion in STEM
Alix Dehayem: Alda Center
Alix Dehayem fell in love with physics when she was 15. If there’s one thing that excites her as much as (or more than) the science itself, it’s sharing her passion with others — something she’s achieving at SBU, following her incredible legacy of inspiring young women across Africa, Asia and Latin America to explore and excel in STEM fields.
Dehayem grew up in Cameroon and studied and worked in France and Kenya before coming to the United States to serve as the coordinator for the Alda Center’s Women in STEM Leadership Program in November 2020. She codesigned and runs this donor-funded initiative, which empowers women and other underrepresented groups from all over the country to rise to decision-making positions in STEM fields. Participants go through a series of professional development workshops, enjoy ongoing networking opportunities, and are provided the ability to apply for funds for self-styled projects supporting minorities in STEM.
In only 17 months, the program had reached 111 women from a wide range of fields, on campus and off, said Dehayem, “giving them the opportunity to strengthen their leadership and communication skills, and to connect with other like-minded professionals to create a lasting, supportive network and long-term bonds. I’m very proud of the program’s progress and accomplishments, and very inspired by the enthusiasm of program participants who are helping create the change we all want and need to see in STEM.”
So far, she said, three funded empowerment projects are being implemented, all designed to work with school-age children and two specifically targeting underserved communities. And there are four more projects on the way.
Making STEM fields inclusive and accessible is nothing new to Dehayem, who co-founded the Eastern Africa Network for Women in Basic Science in 2018.This far-reaching program mentors female students, organizes outreach activities and school visits, and weaves gender awareness into teaching curriculums. It has supported hundreds of women and girls and continues to thrive today.
Helping establish a network represented in five countries — Kenya, Uganda, Zambia, Rwanda and Tanzania — and serving on the executive committee “with brilliant African women scientists was very exciting to me,” she said. “I knew that together our joined efforts would be stronger and more impactful. And, on a personal level, it has been such a rewarding experience to know I played a role, even if it is just a small one, in inspiring women and girls to create their own scientific identity as they pursue STEM career pathways.”
The mission that started halfway around the world is one Dehayem remains fervently committed to at Stony Brook: “I am truly passionate about promoting more diversity, equity and inclusion in the STEM fields. I see myself in a leadership role that implements programs where quality, innovation and multidisciplinary efforts meet. And I’m proud and amazed to be in a system where we celebrate and cultivate diversity of skill, personality, talent and culture, all along the social spectrum.”
Mentee Taylor Medwig-Kinney, a PhD candidate in genetics, worked with Dehayem to develop a project to empower women. It’s called “Project WORMS” (Women for Outreach and Role Models in Science), so named as the program exposes middle and high school students to C. elegans worm research through scientific demonstrations and hands-on research activities. Scheduled to start this spring, the program is designed to spur interest in STEM research, demonstrate that higher education and STEM careers are accessible, and help students identify women scientist role models and mentors.
“My outreach program would not have gotten off the ground without Dr. Dehayem, who has always believed in me and helped me see my vision through,” said Medwig-Kinney.
Ellen Cooke is the associate director of internal communications, Office of Marketing and Communications.