In celebration of International Women in Science Day, Momentum Labs is highlighting inspiring women in the field of STEM who have had a positive impact on the Alachua-Gainesville region.
We had the privilege of speaking to Mary El-Semarani about her experience working in STEM. Mary serves as the Director and M.S. Academic Chair at Santa Fe College Perry Center for Emerging Technologies.
What area of STEM initially sparked your interest?
I’ve always been interested in science. As a child, I wanted to work for National Geographic and do shark photography. However, my scuba diving skills put an end to that! In college I studied anthropology and worked in archaeology. However, I discovered archaeology was mostly mundane with no Indiana Jones ending. As a result, I finally focused on biotechnology and eventually forensics.
Who has been a mentor to you in this industry or Who is a female role model in this industry?
My most influential mentor was Dr. Kelly Gridley. She was the dean for the biotechnology program at Santa Fe College. Dr. Gridley basically introduced me into the world of biotechnology. She instructed me on new methodologies and concepts.
Her motto is “health is wealth”. During my time as her student, my husband was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Dr. Gridley encouraged me to keep pursuing my academics and finish my master’s degree. Receiving this degree opened the doors to many opportunities and secured a financially stable future for my children.
What project or initiative have you been a part of that you feel made a positive impact?
A current initiative I am part of is Santa Fe College’s ACB Excel program for phlebotomy. ACB Excel is a community-funded initiative at Santa Fe College that empowers entire families by providing parents and their school-aged children with access to academic programs and services, simultaneously. Parents get rapid credentialing for high-wage, in-demand jobs, while their children engage in enriching activities that support their well-being.
This two-generational approach, which is free for all participants, improves economic stability and strengthens individual families. As parents and their children work together, they:
- Achieve together
- Conquer life’s challenges together
- Believe in themselves and in their ability to impact each other’s success
How have you been encouraged to overcome challenges in this industry?
I’ve learned to be persistent, adaptable, and not afraid to seek out help. It is also important to maintain a network of supporters.
What is your best piece of advice for young women pursuing a career in STEM?
Gain practical experience and be strategic yet innovative.
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