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#IAmNYAS: Evelyn M. S. Litwinoff

Being inspired, inspiring others, and researching the connection between diabetes and obesity? All in a day’s work for this Academy Member and mentor.

Published June 15, 2016

#IAmNYAS: Evelyn M. S. Litwinoff

Many of the most inspiring scientists out there were initially inspired to join the field by others-whether it be parents, teachers, mentors, or friends and colleagues. One of Academy Member, mentor, and PhD candidate Evelyn M. S. Litwinoff's early inspirations was a science teacher who took her lessons to new heights in the classroom. And Litwinoff is now paying it forward by inspiring young women participating in our 1000 Girls, 1000 Futures program. At the same time, she's also spending time researching a possible linchpin connecting diabetes and obesity.

Learn more about Litwinoff, her work, and her inspirations below.

What project(s) are you currently working on?

I work on the role of inflammation in obesity and in the resulting development of diabetes. Despite efforts to change diet and lifestyle, over one-third of Americans suffer from obesity and diabetes, and no effective cure or treatment exists. My thesis adviser discovered a receptor that induces inflammation in the context of this disease. My research focuses on understanding the role of this receptor in fat tissue of obese and lean animals, in order to aid the development of a novel diabetes drug.

Who has been your biggest science inspiration?

I owe my love of science and passion for investigating how our bodies work to my high school biology teacher, Mrs. Gina Paganelli. "Mrs. Pags" explained basic and complex biological theories in a way to make sure you remembered them. I'll never forget the day she stood on top of her desk, opened her arms up wide and said "I am an enzyme. This [the tissue box she picked up and put between her arms] is a substrate." She also had a way of encouraging us to be curious, explore, and think critically without making us feel stupid for not knowing an answer.

What is one of your hobbies (outside of science)?

I love baking challah, a type of braided egg-based bread. It's traditionally a sweet bread, kind of like a brioche, that may be decorated with seeds on top. My specialty is baking challah with special flavors, such as balsamic apple date stuffed challah, fresh herbed challah, pumpkin challah, or fig, olive oil, and sea salt challah.

How long have you been a STEM mentor?

I am a relatively new STEM mentor but I love every moment of it! My first experience started about two years ago when I began mentoring a summer undergraduate student in my lab. Since then, I have helped another undergraduate student gain her first hands-on laboratory experience and after two years working with me, she is about to graduate and enter into a post-bac program abroad.

Currently I am a mentor in the Academy's 1000 Girls, 1000 Futures program where I mentor a high school student who has expressed interest in a STEM career. I attribute my own success as a scientist to the strong female role models I had in high school, college, and graduate school, and I love being able to be that role model for other girls interested in science.

Why do you think mentoring in STEM is important?

STEM fields can contain difficult and demanding jobs and it is extremely important to have a good support network to survive in these fields. There is definitely a "big boys club" that exists that helps men thrive, and we need to create a "big girls club" to provide support for the other half of the worlds' population. I believe mentoring is important in STEM especially for women, so we can help each other with career progression, stress relief, technical support, and in all the other ways that men may not be so willing to help us obtain.

Do you want to help inspire the next generation of scientist? Sign up to be a mentor in one of the Academy's Global STEM Alliance programs today.

Read more #IAmNYAS profiles here.