A collection of orange statues of women outside the Smithsonian 'castle'

3D-Printed Statues Honor Women in STEM—Including Seven Cornellians

In March, a Smithsonian exhibit of all 120 of the vivid orange artworks made history in the nation’s capital

By Beth Saulnier

It was billed as the largest collection ever assembled of statues depicting women: 120 bright orange likenesses, displayed on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., in early March. Created through full-body scanning and 3D printing, the artworks depict real people—including seven Cornellians—who are making impressive contributions in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) fields.

The exhibition at the Smithsonian, which kicked off Women’s History Month, was the culmination of a years-long effort—complicated by the pandemic—to inspire and inform by highlighting the achievements of students and professionals in these historically male-dominated disciplines.

“These striking 3D-printed figures of remarkable women in STEM careers help us celebrate the incredible impact women continue to make on vital scientific endeavors,” Lonnie Bunch, secretary of the Smithsonian, said in a statement. “This exhibition highlights how a more diverse, more inclusive workforce will strengthen our shared future.”

Titled “#IfThenSheCan–The Exhibit,” the display—which included QR codes linking to bios of each statue’s subject—was part of an ongoing project by Dallas-based Lyda Hill Philanthropies, which in March 2019 founded the IF/THEN Initiative, aimed at encouraging girls to enter STEM fields.

This exhibition highlights how a more diverse, more inclusive workforce will strengthen our shared future.

Lonnie Bunch, secretary of the Smithsonian

The statues—orange, the organization says, because it’s a “neutral and happy color”—depict women tapped by Lyda Hill Philanthropies and the American Association for the Advancement of Science to serve as role models, dubbed AAAS IF/THEN Ambassadors.

Originally slated to go on full display in spring 2020, their debut was postponed by the pandemic, though some subsets of the figures were exhibited, including at New York’s Central Park Zoo and Dallas Love Field Airport.

While their tenure in the nation’s capital (which included smaller displays in various spots throughout the month) has ended and the statues are currently in storage, director Margaret Black says Lyda Hill Philanthropies have “received an outpouring of interest for hosting statues at various venues”—and that future pop-up exhibits may be in the works.

Here’s a look at the seven Cornellians in “#IfThenSheCan”: four alumnae, one current student, and two academics who were postdocs on the Hill when they were chosen as STEM ambassadors and scanned for their statues.

Ana Maria Porras

Ana Maria Porras with her statue

Porras, a biomedical engineer, is now on the faculty at the University of Florida, Gainesville—which last fall showcased her unorthodox hobby of crocheting models of microbes, a craft she also practiced on the Hill. She holds a BS from the University of Texas, Austin, and a PhD from the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

Porras was at Cornell from 2017–21, first as a postdoc in the Meinig School (where she won a Postdoc Achievement Award for Excellence in Community Engagement), then as a Presidential Postdoctoral Fellow. A native of Colombia, she came to the U.S. to pursue her passion for biomedical engineering.

“My advice to you? Be brave and don’t be scared to try new things,” she says. “Maybe one day you’ll also have a job that goes beyond your imagination.”


Ronda Hamm, PhD ’08

Ronda Hamm with her statue

Hamm is an entomologist who earned her doctorate in that field on the Hill, following undergrad studies at Fresno State and time as a high school teacher. She’s now based in Indianapolis as the global academic relations manager for Corteva Agriscience, an international agricultural chemical and seed company.

Last fall, she was featured on “Mission Unstoppable,” a CBS show about groundbreaking women in STEM. “I work with museums, nonprofit organizations, and educational institutions to spread knowledge and experiences with insects and agriculture to people around the world,” Hamm says.

She adds: “I still have trouble believing that I am getting paid to do what I am most passionate about.”


Lindsey Rustad ’80

Lindsey Rustad with her statue

A philosophy major on the Hill, Rustad is a New England-based research ecologist with the USDA Forest Service who focuses on the effects of climate change on forests. The Arts & Sciences alum went on to earn an MS in forest science from Yale and a PhD in plant science from the University of Maine.

She’s a co-director of the USDA Northeast Climate Hub and a team leader of the Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest in New Hampshire, and she holds an adjunct faculty appointment at the University of Maine, Orono.

“The forests protect our water quality, give us oxygen to breathe, and harbor critical biodiversity,” she says. “With our work, we can help both our forests and our communities adapt to a changing world.”


Nicole Sharp, MS ’09

Nicole Sharp with her statue

Early in life, Sharp notes, she struggled with either/or choices. “Either I could pursue engineering and my dream of being an astronaut, or I could keep writing and become an author; either I could play on the basketball team or I could be in band,” she says. “The truth is, I didn’t want to choose. I wanted Option C: all of the above.”

Today, Sharp is a science communicator based in Denver, CO. She’s editor-in-chief of FYFD, a blog devoted to fluid dynamics that has an audience of more than 350,000 and has been featured in such media as the New York Times, the Guardian, and Wired.

Sharp’s master’s work in aerospace engineering on the Hill was bookended by her undergrad years at Case Western Reserve and her doctoral studies at Texas A&M, during which she launched FYFD.


Claire Meaders

Claire Meaders with her statue

A Cornell postdoc in ecology and evolutionary biology from 2018–20, Meaders is an assistant teaching professor of biological sciences at the University of California, San Diego. She holds an undergrad degree from Brown and a doctorate from Harvard; on the Hill, she won an Innovative Teaching and Learning Award and was featured during Postdoc Appreciation Week in 2019. “As a kid I loved science, but then in college I had impostor syndrome,” admits Meaders, who has herself served as a mentor to elementary-age girls.

“I wouldn’t ask for help if I was confused—I thought that would show I didn’t belong in STEM. The longer I’ve worked as a researcher and teacher, the more I’ve embraced that STEM is all about questions, but I’ve also seen that the feelings I had are common among my students and peers.”


Karina Popovich ’23

Karina Popovich with her statue

A current student in the Dyson School, Popovich is preparing for a career that marries entrepreneurship, tech (especially 3D printing), and social impact.

Early in the pandemic, at age 19, the first-generation Ukranian-American put those plans into action by founding Makers for COVID-19, a global coalition of 3D printing aficionados who created and donated 82,000 units of PPE to U.S. medical workers. The effort garnered her Cornell’s Robinson-Appel Humanitarian Award as well as a COVID-19 Response Award from the Clinton Global Initiative University.

“The moment I saw a 3D printer in high school I was amazed by how simple yet complex the idea of stacking 2D layers is,” she says. “It was that moment that summarized every reason why I was so passionate about engineering that also inspired me to pursue it and share its beauty with the rest of the world.”


Ritu Raman ’12

A composite image of Ritu Raman and her statue

An assistant professor at MIT, the mechanical engineering alum describes herself as “the proud daughter of two amazing engineers.” Her earliest memories from childhood in Kenya include watching her parents build communication towers in rural areas.

“We would travel to these villages every weekend and I would play with the local children while watching my parents connect the villages to the rest of the world,” she recalls. “These experiences with my family taught me that innovation can be used to solve many of the problems we face, and this inspired me to become a scientist.” 

She now focuses her research on “biohybrid” robots and implantable devices—ones that are powered by living tissue. “My goal is to give the next generation of diverse inventors the tools they need to build solutions to the problems we face as a shared global community,” she says. “Together, I believe we can build a better world!”

Editor’s note: The quoted comments in the above bios were drawn from the subjects’ personal statements as IF/THEN Ambassadors. All photos with statues were taken live except those of Sharp and Raman, which are composite images.

Top image: Photo by by Hannele Lahti, courtesy of IF/THEN Collection.

Published April 26, 2022; updated May 10, 2022


Comments

  1. Suzanne Furry-Irish, Class of 1976

    As I was scrolling through the bios, at one point I thought “Another woman!” Duh, I remembered, that’s the point. Just really hit me how groundbreaking this is. Bravo!

  2. Ruth Bailey, Class of 1954

    Awesome women!

  3. Amazing, very interesting and inspiring all at once!!!

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