Meet the Winners of the 2021 University Awards for the Advancement of Women

Winners of the 2021 University Awards for the Advancement of Women!

Vaishnavi Siripurapu is a junior double majoring in Biology (BS) and Women’s and Gender Studies with a minor in Medical Anthropology. She is originally from Mooresville, NC and an Indian immigrant. Vaishnavi is particularly interested in reproductive health, reproductive justice, and sexual education. She has previously created a gynecology education seminar and conducted published research in the reproductive health field, works as a birth doula at UNC hospitals, and also collaborates on a YouTube Channel for reproductive and feminist education called The Vagilantes. Vaishnavi has collaborated with Duke Global Women’s Health Center, The InnovationNext Reproductive Health Grant, and scholars from various universities to push for reproductive health development and accessibility. She is also a peer instructor in the Biology and Chemistry departments, encouraging the retention of women in STEM at UNC. Vaishnavi aspires to be an advocate for gender equality, reproductive health, and reproductive justice.


Candice Crilly is a fifth-year Chemistry PhD student in Gary Pielak’s research group and a former leader of the WinSPIRE (Women in Science Promoting Inclusion in Research Experiences) organization at UNC. Candice completed her undergraduate studies at Occidental College with a B.A. in biochemistry and the first in her family to obtain a bachelor’s degree. She learned in college the value of mentorship, which inspired her to volunteer for numerous STEM outreach and mentorship opportunities throughout her academic career. In 2018, when the WinSPIRE program founder Samantha Piszkiewicz graduated, Candice stepped up to lead a team of passionate graduate student volunteers to organize, improve, and expand the then 2-year-old WinSPIRE summer research and mentorship program for woman-identifying and non-binary high school students.Under her leadership, the WinSPIRE organizational team devised and implemented innovative strategies to recruit students from less privileged backgrounds, leading to a 225% increase in program size and an over 20% increase in applications from students who would be the first in their family to attend college. Candice also worked with her fellow co-president Megan Luedeman to ensure the sustainability of WinSPIRE program by introducing a formal structure to the organizational team and by initiating partnerships with the Carolina Women’s Center, the Office of Graduate Education at UNC, and the after-school youth program StudentU in Durham. In the Fall of 2020, Candice stepped down from the co-president role to focus on completing her dissertation research, but she continues to support the program through grant-writing and meeting with potential community partners. Outside of researching biological phenomena at the molecular level and participating in STEM outreach, Candice enjoys attending concerts, hiking, and traveling.

Dr. Jillian Dempsey, PHD is an Associate Professor of Chemistry and the Bowman and Gordon Gray Distinguished Term Professor. Her research laboratory seeks to develop efficient solar energy conversion processes and she is currently the Deputy Director of the Center for Hybrid Approaches in Solar Energy to Liquid Fuels (CHASE), a Department of Energy Fuels from Sunlight Hub. She serves as the program director for the Clare Boothe Luce Fellowships for Graduate Women in Chemistry and is the co-founder of the Chemistry Women Mentorship Committee.

Maria Mangano joined the Career Development Office (CDO) of UNC School of Law in January 2005. She has a special interest in women’s career issues and working with students and alumni who are members of groups historically underrepresented in the legal profession. She received a BA with highest distinction from the University of Virginia and an MA from Duke University, both in English, and her law degree from UNC. Prior to joining the CDO, Maria served as a staff attorney at the North Carolina Court of Appeals, practiced law with small firms in Raleigh and Durham, and worked at Duke Law School in the Office of Career Services and on the faculty as a Legal Writing instructor. She is a longtime member and past president of the North Carolina Association of Women Attorneys, was on the Board of Directors of NC LEAF (Legal Education Assistance Foundation) from 2005-2012, and has been a member of the North Carolina Bar Association’s Minorities in the Profession Committee since 2005, co-chairing that Committee’s Summer Associates Program subcommittee in 2008-2009. She is a member and Carolina Law’s school representative of the Susie Sharp Inn of Court, serving as president of the Inn from 2011-2013.

Meet the 2020 Faculty Scholar Grant Winners

Congratulations to the Winners of the 2020 Faculty Scholar Grant!

Abbie E. Smith-Ryan, Ph.D., CSCS*D, FNSCA, FACSM, FISSN is an associate professor in the Department of Exercise and Sport Science, where she serves as the Director of the Applied Physiology Lab. She is also an adjunct associate professor in the Department of Nutrition and Allied Health Sciences. Her research interests center around exercise and nutrition interventions to modify various aspects of body composition, cardiovascular health, and metabolic function.  She is an active researcher in the field of metabolism, sport nutrition and exercise performance, in both healthy and clinical populations, leading projects funded by the National Institutes of Health and international and national industry sponsored clinical trials.  Dr. Smith-Ryan contributes to the current body of scientific literature with over 130 peer-reviewed manuscripts; a number of scholastic books and book chapters; and international/national presentations. Dr. Smith-Ryan currently serves as a University liaison for the ‘Working on Women in Science (WOWS)’ initiative, Faculty Athletics Committee, and the Institutional Review Board. She has a passion for improving the health and quality of life of others through evidenced-based research. In her research project funded by CWC, her goals are to “comprehensively evaluate body composition, metabolic parameters, and exercise capacity in women at all stages of the menopause transition” and “identify relationships between body composition, lifestyle factors, physical activity, and metabolism through the progression of menopause.”


Julia Gibson is the head of the Professional Actor Training Program at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill where she is an associate professor in the Department of Dramatic Art and a resident acting company member of PlayMakers Repertory Company.  She has performed as an actor on and off Broadway and at major theatres across the U.S. as well as on TV and film.  She has directed at the Rattlestick, Chautauqua Theatre Company, Portland Stage, Gulfshore, and other theatres, as well as Juilliard, NYU, SMU and Stella Adler.  She received her MFA from New York University, is a founding member of The Actors Center in New York City, and the National Alliance for Acting Teachers, and is a Fox Fellowship recipient.  Julia has narrated over 160 audio books.  She has written two full-length plays, one of which was a semi finalist for the O’Neill National Playwrights Conference, and is currently working on her third, which she started with the assistance of a Junior Faculty Development Award.  She just completed a year with the Center for Faculty Excellence’s Leadership Fundamentals Program. In her CWC-funded research project, she aims to “fully shine the spotlight on mature women, provide roles for older actresses, tell their stories and give them visibility” in the world of theater.

Sarah E. (Betsy) Bledsoe is associate professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Social Work and an associate at the Family Informed Trauma Treatment Center in Baltimore, MD. Her training includes a doctorate in social work from Columbia University, a master of social work from the University of Pittsburgh, and a bachelor of arts in psychology from the University of Tennessee. Her research has long focused on the emotional health and wellbeing of women with a special focus on mothers. She has spent over 20 years working to understand the best practices for supporting the mental health and wellbeing of mothers and their children. This work has led her to projects focused on adapting evidence-based interventions for low-income, racial/ethnic minorities and other disenfranchised groups of mothers, to studies aimed at better understanding the impact of traumatic and violent experiences on subsequent mental health and wellbeing, and most recently to community based research with mothers, colleagues, and community partners here in NC aimed at understanding the strengths, challenges, and gaps in services around maternal health and wellbeing. Her CWC-funded research will “address gaps in services and support for rural mothers with a focus on improving maternal mental health and addressing associated disparities in maternal and child health to increase health equity.”

Meet the Winners of the 2020 University Awards for the Advancement of Women

Winners of the 2020 University Awards for the Advancement of Women!

Dr. Amelia Fischer Drake, MD, FACS, is Executive Associate Dean of Academic Programs, ND Fischer Distinguished Professor of Otolaryngology/Head & Neck Surgery, and Director of the UNC Craniofacial Center. After graduating from Cornell University with a major in Biology, she attended the UNC School of Medicine. She completed her residency at the University of Michigan Medical Center at Ann Arbor, and was a fellow in pediatric otolaryngology at the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, before returning to UNC. Her clinical and research interests focus on pediatric otolaryngology, pediatric airway disorders, and craniofacial anomalies. She assumed her role as Director of the UNC Craniofacial Center in the School of Dentistry in 2000. She assumed her role of Associate Dean in the UNC School of Medicine in 2011 and has actively served to promote women and other leaders within this context.


Anna Manocha is a sophomore at UNC-Chapel Hill who grew up in Cary, North Carolina. She is Business Administration major and Spanish for the Business Professions minor. She has worked with She’s the First (an international organization that provides financial and emotional support for girls that are the first in their families to go to secondary school) since freshman year and is now Vice-President. As Vice-President, she works to plan and execute fundraisers to finance the education of three scholars in India and one in Guatemala. She also works to attract new members to the club so that the chapter at UNC can fund the education of even more scholars worldwide. Anna is also a Buckley Public Service Scholar and volunteers at Club Nova and local homeless shelters in the Chapel Hill community. Further, Anna works with the From Houses to Homes Club at UNC and recently travelled to build a house in Guatemala during spring break.


Shannon Speer is a Ph.D. student in the Chemistry Department at UNC-CH in Gary Pielak’s lab. Throughout her graduate studies, she has been passionate about the recruitment and promotion of women in STEM and involved with Women in Science (WinS), Allies for Minorities and Women in Science and Engineering (AM_WISE), WinSPIRE (Women in Science Promoting Inclusion in Research Experiences), and the Inspiring Meaningful Programs and Communication through Science (IMPACTS) program. As a way to target the next generation of scientists, Shannon became Director of Grant Writing and Fundraising for WinSPIRE and has raised $20,000 to support underprivileged and underrepresented young women in science. This funding helped increase the diversity of the program: 40% African American and Latinx compared to 5% the year before and a 25% increase of first-generation college students. In addition to service in the organizations mentioned, Shannon works closely with young women in the community through tutoring and academic consulting to help promote the next generation of women in science. After the completion of her Ph.D., Shannon hopes to pursue a career in academia and galvanize young women from rural and underrepresented backgrounds to pursue science and research as a career.


Valerie Tan is the Associate Chair for Administration in the Department of Allied Health Sciences, School of Medicine. She has been with UNC since 2004 and was the recipient of the 2019 University Managers Award. Prior to coming to UNC-Chapel Hill, Valerie worked for Carnegie Mellon University as Program Coordinator for International Programs in the Tepper School of Business. Her career in administration began 25 years ago at the National Center for Earthquake Engineering Research at SUNY Buffalo. Valerie is currently a board member for the Association for Women Faculty and Professionals, an organization that offers programs and facilitates networking among professional women across campus. Outside of work, her personal interests include supporting local organizations, including the Compass Center, with her artwork and volunteering with Cinderella’s Closet.


Congratulations to our 2020 UAAW winners, and a huge thanks to all who submitted nominations!

To all the nominees, thank you for your hard work, diligence, and commitment the Carolina community through your efforts to advance the status of women on campus.

Thanks also to the selection committee who took the time to review all the nominations and select this year’s winners.

2020 UAAW Selection Committee members:

Beth Moracco, Chairperson

Charla Blumell

April Callis

Bailey Fattorusso

Barbara Friedman

Michelle Hoffner

Bob Pleasants

Kristan Shawgo

2020 UAAW and CWC Faculty Scholar Grant Deadlines Extended

Information regarding the nominations for the 2020 University Awards for the Advancement of Women and applications for the CWC Faculty Scholar Grant:


Due to the additional burdens placed on campus community members as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Carolina Women’s Center is extending the deadlines for nominations for the 2020 University Awards for the Advancement of Women (UAAW) and the Carolina Women’s Center Faculty Scholar Grant. See details for both the UAAW and Faculty Scholar Grant at their respective links.

Graduate Student Dissertation Awards

The Carolina Women’s Center (CWC) is offering two research awards to UNC-Chapel Hill doctoral students for their gender-based research. Graduate students must have coursework completed and be engaged in the dissertation process. Two awards of $5,000 each will support dissertation projects that address topics related to women, sex, gender equity, and/or all intersections of gender.

Research projects may focus on a wide range of questions. For example, they might explore any of the following: gendered identities and experiences, including but not limited to femininities, masculinities, and gender non-conforming identities and experiences; intersectional analyses of gender; differences based on sex; difference and diversity within and between categories; and gender equity and gender equality. Projects might also bring a gendered analysis to bear on topics seemingly not connected to gender. Projects should clearly articulate how they fulfill this requirement, and applications from doctoral students in all units of the University are welcome.


Submit the following materials via email with “GRAD STUDENT DISS RSRCH AWARD” in subject line to by Saturday, November 30, 2019.

  • The completed application form (click here to download)
  • Double-spaced narrative of no more than 1,000 words describing the dissertation project, its guiding gender-related questions, its relationship to existing scholarship, and anticipated project completion date
  • Curriculum vitae, not to exceed three pages
  • Letter of endorsement from your advisor/dissertation chair (sent separately from advisor/chair to 

Requirements of Graduate Student Awardees: Award winners must make a public presentation about their project or their work-in-progress (usually during the following Fall semester) and write a column about their work for the CWC newsletter. 


Apply to be an Alternative Spring Break Trip Leader

Looking for a meaningful way to spend your spring break? Consider applying to be a student leader for the Carolina Women’s Center Alternative Spring Break!

We are looking for sophomores, juniors, and seniors with strong leadership skills to co-lead a group of students to Eastern North Carolina over spring break. The group will work with local nonprofits that are doing gender equity and violence prevention and response work.

Please complete the following application and return to shelleygk@unc.eduor to the CWC by Thursday, January 24 at 5pm. CWC ASE Leader Application

Please email with any questions.

Look for the participant application in early late January or early February!

WHM: Sister Rosetta Tharpe

In honor of Women’s History Month, the Carolina Women’s Center is featuring blog posts by UNC student Lydia McInnes. Lydia’s writing celebrates some notable women throughout history. In remembering their actions, we honor their memory and their contributions to all women.

Sister Rosetta Tharpe

Born: Cotton Plant, Arkansas on March 20, 1915 (birth name: Rosetta Nubin)

Died: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on March 20, 1973

Occupation: Gospel singer and performer

Why you should know about her:

Daughter of Katie Bell Nubin, a well-known singer in her own right, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, born Rosetta Nubin, started performing on stage with her mother when she was just four years old. Her mother was a singer and mandolin player as well as a popular evangelical preacher for the Church of God in Christ, a Christian denomination founded by a black Baptist bishop named Charles Mason in 1894. The church encouraged musical expression as a form of worship and, in a radical move for the time, allowed women to preach. Tharpe’s mother was one such preacher from the church and performed on stage with her daughter at church conventions and traveling shows across the country.

Something of a musical prodigy, Tharpe became a regular fixture of her mother’s traveling tour group at the age of six, playing the guitar and singing in her mother’s hybrid sermon and gospel concert performances. She and her mother settled down in Chicago, Illinois in the mid-1920s as part of the Great Migration, or the broader movement of African Americans moving north in response to post-Reconstruction backlash, where she gained considerable popularity at a time when black female guitarists were rare – Memphis Minnie was the only other guitarist to gain such national popularity.

In 1934, Tharpe married Thomas Thorpe at 19.  Although their marriage only lasted a short time, she used his surname as inspiration for her stage name, . In 1938, she moved to New York City and signed with Decca Records, becoming the label’s first gospel singer and racking up four national hits in October of that year alone.

Tharpe became known for her gospel-style that incorporated styles of urban blues, jazz, and swing music with a distinct pulsating beat. In fact, despite being classified as a gospel artist, her style of music is actually part of early rock and roll music and the precursor to much of the later genre. She went on to play an electric guitar in a song titled “That’s All” which had a great influence on later rock and roll artists like Chuck Berry and Elvis Presley.

Tharpe was also in an “open secret” relationship with fellow performer Marie Knight, with whom she collaborated in 1953 to record a secular blues album. Although this album was less popular than any of Tharpe’s previous ones and drew a lot of criticism and condemnation from her religious fan base, Tharpe and Knight continued in a relationship for several years. Tharpe is now regarded as one of the most popular queer black musicians of her time. Her 1940s popularity has never been seen for gospel musicians before or since.

Tharpe spent most of the ‘50s, ‘60s, and early ‘70s touring Europe and the United States until she suffered a stroke and had to have her leg amputated. She continued touring and performing for three years after that, until she suffered a second stroke and died three days later. She was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s “Influences” category in 2017 and credited with pioneering the guitar technique that later artists Chuck Berry, Elvis, and Eric Clapton would continue to develop.

Rosetta Tharpe truly was the queer black godmother of the modern rock and roll music movement and she continued to shape the music landscape decades after her death.

WHM: Hedy Lamar

In honor of Women’s History Month, the Carolina Women’s Center is featuring blog posts by UNC student Lydia McInnes. Lydia’s writing celebrates some notable women throughout history. In remembering their actions, we honor their memory and their contributions to all women.

Hedy Lamar

Born: Vienna, Austria on November 9, 1913 (birth name: Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler)

Died: Casselberry, Florida on Jan. 19, 2000

Occupation: Inventor, pin-up model, and film actress

Why you should know about her:

More than just a pretty face, Hedy Lamar was the sensuous mistress of MGM’s “Golden Age” during the early days of Hollywood. But her career as a pin-up model and film actress often overshadows her greatest achievement: inventing a radio signaling device for the military to help defeat the Nazis. This “Secret Communications System” as it became known was useful in the war, but the far-reaching impact wasn’t fully understood until decades later when it became the earliest communication prototype for military technology and early cell phones.

Born in Vienna in 1913, Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler – Hedy Lamar – began acting in her late teens. She became an international sensation in 1933 when she was “discovered” by an Austrian director for her role in a steamy Czech movie called Ecstasy (1932). After her unhappy marriage to first husband Fritz Mandl – an Austrian munitions manufacturer who, it turned out, sold arms to the Nazis – she moved to America and capitalized on her success in the Czech and German film industries to sign with MGM, one of the biggest studios of the day and the only company to produce a movie eligible for Best Picture every year for two decades.

Her first Hollywood film, Algiers (1938), cemented her popularity with American audiences and led to her getting role after role alongside other Hollywood Golden Age actors like Clark Gable, Spencer Tracey, Charles Boyer, and Jimmy Stewart. But it was her incredible off-screen talents and intelligence that earned her a place in celebrated women’s history.

Lamar and her friend and composer George Antheil worked together to create and patent their “Secret Communications System.” Their system featured a simultaneous radio frequency broadcast that relied on the invention of the downsized transistor, or an amplifying semiconductor device. originally meant to prevent US military enemies from blocking the signals of radio-controlled missiles. Initially deemed impossible by most military and scientific officials, the idea of proved incredibly useful once Lamar and Antheil got it working and even more so after the war as it became the basis for most mobile phone technology as the multi-frequency audio broadcasting was used in many early cell phone designs.

Both Antheil and Lamar received the patent for their invention in 1942 and later, in 1997, were honored with the Electronic Frontier Foundation Pioneer Award. Also in 1997, Lamar received the BULBIE Gnass Spirit of Achievement Award, equivalent to an Oscar in the field of technological advancement and invention.

After a long and eventful life, Lamar died in 2000 in her Florida home at the age of 87. While we can remember her one of Hollywood’s most beautiful and talented actresses, we shouldn’t forget her incredible contribution to 1940s war effort and to the technology that powers our phones today.

WHM: Yaoi Kusama

In honor of Women’s History Month, the Carolina Women’s Center is featuring blog posts by UNC student Lydia McInnes. Lydia’s writing celebrates some notable women throughout history. In remembering their actions, we honor their memory and their contributions to all women.

Yao Kusama

Born: Matsumoto City, Nagano, Japan in 1929

Occupation: Painter, Artist

Notable Quote: “I am an obsessional artist. People may call me otherwise, but … I consider myself a heretic of the art world.”

Why you should know about her:

The product of an arranged marriage, Kusama was born into a wealthy but dysfunctional Japanese family, emotionally and physically abused by her mother and sent to her spy on her father’s extramarital affairs. Her mother often made her report back on her father’s sexual exploits, which led to a lasting trauma of both sexual obsession and aversion that often appeared in her later artwork as a focus on the phallus and the female body.

She started painting at age 10 after she began to experience intense audio-visual hallucinations, using those hallucinations to create dizzying painting and patterns of endless dots, lines, and spirals. In an interview with The Washington Post, she described her repetitive patterned works as attempts to “obliterate” her thoughts, with art becoming a form of therapy, or “art-medicine” for her as she came to terms with the neurosis that only eased when she painted.

She studied traditional Japanese painting in Kyoto in 1948, but she eventually grew frustrated with the strictly regulated, traditional Japanese style of Nihonga – a style of Japanese art similar to Western oil painting but with traditional Japanese materials – and left for New York in 1957. There, she found herself in the midst of the post-war New York avant-garde art scene, but she diverged from the popular style of the time – a style popularized by Jackson Pollock called action painting that involves abstract brushwork and vigorous paint spatters to imitate motion – to do her own large-scale monochromatic pieces. She later expanded to drawings, sculptures, installations, fashion design, and even film. She founded Kusama Enterprises in 1969 to sell clothing, bags, and cars printed with her dizzying designs.

While her art exists in a category of its own, she uses a style that combines several different approaches, including feminist art, abstract expressionism, and minimalism. Her work is often considered a precursor to the Pop Art movement of the 1950s and ‘60s. This style, popularized by Andy Warhol and others, focuses on individual subject matter with heavy iconographic use. Kusama has even been cited as influence on Warhol and other famous artists of the Pop Art movement.

In many ways, her art defies the classification with any and all modern art movements, but it is still revered and enjoyed by many for its intense and, at times, palpably bizarre style. Kusama moved back to Japan in 1973 and entered Seiwa Hospital in 1975 for treatment of her obsessive-compulsive neurosis, but she continued to produce artwork in her unique creative style, even adding poetry and fiction to her creative canon in the 1980s. Her most recent exhibition was on display February 2017 in the Hirshorn Musuem and Sculpture Park in Washington D.C.

In many ways, Kusama’s mental illness has also been her artistic strength as she has built her entire artistic style on the dizzying “Dot Obsessions” paintings inspired by her hallucinations.  She also used her artwork as a platform to challenge traditional notions of a conservative female-effacing Japanese culture at a time when most women, Kusama included, were expected to become dutiful housewives rather than creative beings in their own right. Despite not qualifying in any single “popular” modern art movement, art historians, critics, and fans should remember the legacy of the person behind such dizzying designs and how her struggles with mental illness have also given her great strength.