The MSU Center for Gender in Global Context (GenCen) presented six outstanding women with the 2021 Inspiration Award on Feb. 3.
The Inspiration Awards highlight MSU employees, students and mid-Michigan community members who demonstrate inclusive action and influence in working toward gender equity and social justice, according to the GenCen website.
There are three award categories given out since 2014: Professional Achievement, Community Engagement, and Culture of Empowerment. In 2019, a fourth award was introduced: the Greater Lansing Inspirational Woman of the Year Award.
Three award recipients are MSU professors, two are students and one is a mid-Michigan community member from the Ingham County Health Department.
Beronda Montgomery, MSU foundation professor in biochemistry and molecular biology and microbiology and molecular genetics, was awarded the Culture of Empowerment award.
"The Montgomery Lab pursues a common research theme of understanding how individuals perceive, respond to and are impacted by the environments in which they exist. Primary research is focused on the responses of photosynthetic organisms to external light cues," according to Montgomery's faculty page.
The Culture of Empowerment award is given to the woman who best demonstrated dedication to women’s advancement and empowerment on campus and in the community through mentoring, programs and other leadership opportunities, according to the award website.
Hui “Cathy” Liu, MSU professor in the department of sociology and director of the Family and Population Health (FPH) Laboratory, was awarded the Professional Achievement award.
The Professional Achievement award represents a woman with a unique drive and passion for her career and contributes positively to MSU’s excellence culture, according to the website.
Liu’s research is guided by "the aging and life course perspective to study social determinants of population health."
According to her MSU biography, Liu "has focused on using innovative quantitative methods to develop, test, and promote scientific understanding of marriage and family processes related to population health and well-being over the life course."
Farha Abbasi, MSU assistant professor in the department of psychiatry and recipient of the MSU Community Engagement Award, said in an email her career journey up to this point in time has been, “in one word, relentless, like standing under the burning hot desert sun, parched and naked."
Abbasi’s interests are “cultural psychiatry and teaching medical students how to provide culturally appropriate care to Muslim patients. She works directly with the Muslim American community to encourage integration rather than isolation from mainstream society," according to her faculty page.
As a mental health provider, Abbasi became aware of the stigma and shame silencing mental illnesses.
“I knew to take this on I will have to get into the trenches and once I do that there is no turning back," Abbasi said. "It has been a 15-year-long journey of personal losses and professional sacrifices and now finally I start to see an oasis."
The Community Engagement Award represents women who demonstrate a commitment to engaging and advancing communities and organizations at MSU and in the greater Lansing community through service/volunteerism, leadership, and/or other involvement, according to the website.
Mid-Michigan Health Officer of the Ingham County Health Department Linda Vail is also a recipient of the Community Engagement award. Vail provides leadership to the department for carrying out local health department functions such as environmental health, communicable disease control, and a variety of health promotion and maternal-child health programs and networking with community health centers with Federally Qualified Health Center status, according to her LinkedIn.
The history of Inspiration Awards is relatively recent, as 2014 was the year that Lydia Weiss, the educational program coordinator at the MSU Women’s Resource Center, created the Inspirational Woman of the Year Award.
The award was developed "as a response to the low numbers of women being nominated for and receiving university-wide awards," according to the GenCen website. After the Women’s Resource Center officially closed, the GenCen took the responsibility of managing the award.
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The GenCen acknowledged two MSU student women with their titles as Student Leaders: social relations and policy senior Taylor Belyea and the other, biosystems engineering graduate student Chelsie Boodoo.
Boodoo said in an email that she received her bachelor of science degree in biomedical engineering from Florida International University and then moved to East Lansing to pursue her Ph.D.
Boodoo has done outreach throughout her academic journey, advocating for women and girls in STEM. For example, she has mentored young women early in their careers in science to help guide them on their journey.
Boodoo has focused on professional development during her academic journey, where she has enjoyed refining her science communication (SciComm) skills. She started MSU SciComm to increase awareness and training in scicomm at MSU.
Boodoo said she is looking forward to her team’s free virtual scicomm conference on March 20-21 called Conveyance.
This award shows the community that Boodoo is an advocate for gender equity and social justice. Other women of color who are scientists can see that communities value them, and their efforts are acknowledged, Boodoo said.
“This award helps me know that I am working to create a better environment for women who are Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) to make the space and opportunities for them in the future,” Boodoo said.
Additionally, Abbasi also said this award is important to MSU women staff and faculty for representation in STEM.
“Representation is important," she said. "One woman making it sets a path for many more to follow. For me it never is about accolades, but these awards are vital in helping shine the light on my work. I feel seen, heard, and revived.”
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