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Diverse Dedication

Suzanne Lenhart is changing the solution for her generation of researchers and the next.

Suzanne Lenhart, a Chancellor’s Professor of Mathematics and associate director at the National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis (NIMBioS), has always encouraged her female students to pursue careers in math.

“Female students need female role models in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics),” Lenhart says.

The numbers of women in STEM fields are low nationwide. Computer and mathematical sciences have only a 25 percent concentration of women according to a 2016 report by the National Science Board.

Brittany Stephenson, a graduate student in mathematics, says Lenhart is an “amazing example of a woman excelling at a career in STEM,” and her mentoring is unparalleled.

“She dedicates herself to supporting others in their pursuit of such a career,” Stephenson adds. “Without her, I would have missed out on many opportunities to grow and network in my field. I could not have asked for a better graduate school advisor and mentor.”

Although Lenhart’s interest in diversity began with the representation of women, she is now trying to promote STEM fields to other underrepresented groups. Working with a handful of students, she recently started a UT chapter of the Society of Advancement of Chicanos/Latinos and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS). The organization helps scientists attain advanced degrees, careers, and leadership positions in STEM.

“Through my connections with NIMBioS and National Science Foundation Math Institutes, I got involved with the Modern Math Workshop at the SACNAS annual meeting,” Lenhart says. “It was amazing to see the number of undergraduate students in attendance, as well as the diversity of the attendees.”

Lenhart also works with the South East Alliance for Persons with Disabilities in STEM (SEAPD-STEM) on a pilot program funded through a National Science Foundation Inclusion grant.

The grant is one of the first 37 pilot grants for the program. The UT group will focus on professional development for students with disabilities. In November 2017, Lenhart and her colleagues hosted a workshop for people interested in helping students with disabilities succeed in college.

The attendees ranged from high school teachers and guidance counselors to students and faculty from community colleges and UT. The workshop focused on the need for student services and helping make the transition from high school to college.

“When students with disabilities are in high school, their parents are able to be heavily involved as advocates. But when the students come to college, they have to learn to advocate for themselves,” Lenhart says.

Lenhart also leads the mentoring team for UT’s Program for Excellence and Equity in Research (PEER), and she serves on the diversity committees of several national organizations.

Her advocacy has garnered prestigious recognition from her peers. Lenhart received the College of Arts and Sciences Diversity Leadership Award in 2009 and was named to the Association for Women in Mathematics’ inaugural class of fellows in 2017.

“Diversity is important to me, and I am proud to be in this inaugural class,” Lenhart says. “A diverse set of viewpoints, backgrounds, and knowledge bases can better solve the scientific problems that face our society and our communities.”