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Empowering women in STEM: SIUE alumna Chanté Summers

SIUE alumna Chanté Summers

Grey Matter Marketing, a woman-owned category design firm that partners with life science companies, runs a monthly Woman In Science campaign on their social media channels. One of their summer spotlight’s was on Southern Illinois University Edwardsville alumna Chanté Summers, a synthetic medicinal chemist at Pfizer’s Oncology Unit of Medicine Design.

Summers earned her bachelor’s and master’s in chemistry at SIUE in 2015 and 2016 respectively. Her exposure as an ambassador for the IF/THEN coalition, both in the flesh and as a life-sized statue in a Smithsonian Institute exhibit, put Summers on Gray Matter Marketing’s radar as a woman in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) to recognize.

The IF/THEN Coalition, a philanthropic group that empowers current STEM innovators and inspires the next generation of pioneers, presented the “#IfThenSheCan – The Exhibit,” a collection of 120 bright orange 3D-printed statues of contemporary women visionaries in STEM.

The exhibit contains a biography of each woman and aims to inspire young girls to see themselves in STEM careers. Displayed at the Smithsonian Institute last year, it set the record for the most statues of women ever assembled at one location in one time. Among them was a gleaming statue of SIUE’s own Summers, now a novel cancer research chemist in La Jolla, Calif. and an ambassador for the IF/THEN Coalition.

“The exhibit came as a surprise,” Summers exclaims. “I knew IF/THEN would be using our photos in national museums and classrooms. I had no idea they would 3D scan and print us. I quickly realized how big of a step it was to showcase women in STEM this way. It made a splash in every museum, location and media outlet.”

Summers became motivated to pursue a career in STEM because of her family’s hardship with genetic disease. Now she routinely synthesizes new compounds which are tested for anti-cancer properties.

“I hope to relate to people when I tell my story at speaking engagements,” Summers adds. “I’m inspired by others’ experiences. I’m able to convey their stories are as important as mine, and moving forward is possible.”

Recalling how SIUE prepared her for her future, Summers remarks fondly about how beautiful the campus is and how it was easy to transition to California-living from the bike trails and her active lifestyle. She reflects on her development from a student researcher to a student manager working with an inclusive range of people here.

“I had the opportunity to work in scientific research and also in student services, so I learned how to manage myself and others,” Summer says. “SIUE is extremely diverse, not all colleges are. I’ve experienced a bit of shock seeing universities that do not have the racial, ethnic and generational diversity SIUE provided.”

When she’s not working in the discovery stages of the pharmaceutical pipeline, she can be found standing at a lectern as proudly as her orange statue. This month she’ll be educating the public at the San Diego Science Center and speaking at an engagement at Cabrillo National Monument.

Summers says, “Showing up as a Black woman in STEM lets people know it’s possible. I can share how I got here and how they might, too.”

Central to SIUE’s exceptional and comprehensive education, the SIUE College of Arts and Sciences offers degree programs in the natural sciences, humanities, arts, social sciences and communications. The College touches the lives of all SIUE students, helping them explore diverse ideas and experiences, while learning to think and live as fulfilled, productive members of the global community. Study abroad, service-learning, internships and other experiential learning opportunities better prepare SIUE students not only to succeed in our region’s workplaces, but also to become valuable leaders who make important contributions to our communities.

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