Thirty accomplished women took center stage at Stevie Eller Dance Theater on Friday, Oct. 20 to be recognized as Women of Impact by the University of Arizona Office of Research, Innovation & Impact (RII). The awardees, representing a wide range of colleges, units and disciplines across campus, were chosen by committee from over 200 nominations for their commitment to UArizona values as well as their professional achievements, community impact, unique skills in driving discovery and innovation, and their passion for empowering others.
Although the impact of an individual can be difficult to measure, the descriptive statements of each honoree show a unique depth of investment in the university and community as evidenced through actions and impact that resonates far beyond UArizona’s campus. Each finalist also invited a mentee to join them at the event.
This year’s guest list also included Young Women of Impact honorees, representing public high schools in Pima County as nominated by the school principal based on characteristics similar to the judging rubric for the UArizona Women of Impact finalists.
The awards celebration opened with remarks from Arizona Governor Katie Hobbs and University of Arizona President Robert C. Robbins. “Tonight’s awardees represent the best characteristics of Arizona, it is obvious that you care deeply about our state – from the students who benefit from your dedication and passion to the people across Arizona who are impacted by your truly incredible research, innovation, scholarship, leadership, and mentorship,” said Hobbs. “We are stronger when we have a state that empowers and works for everyone, so please join me in continuing to support and uplift one another, and in blazing trails for all those that come after us.” President Robbins addressed the Women of Impact honorees saying “You are leading the way while empowering those around you and preparing the next generation.” And to the Young Women of Impact honorees, he said “You are our future.”
Dr. Gayatri Vedantam, a Professor in the School of Animal and Comparative Biomedical Sciences and a U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Research Career Scientist, has been incredibly influential in the fields of microbiology and immunology with her groundbreaking research and teaching. Gayatri’s nomination came from 12 of her close collaborators, peer faculty, and students. If there was one common thread that came through on the nominations, it was Gayatri’s standard of research excellence, which she displays in multiple ways. As the Co-Director of the Collaboratory for Anti-Infective & Therapeutic Strategies (CATS) here at the UArizona, she works hard to foster community and collaboration between colleagues across the university and/or external partners.
Most of her recent work has focused on a pathogen that affects millions of Americans, Clostridioides difficile. C. difficile causes infection in the large intestine, resulting in chronic, severe diarrhea – and can lead to death in immunocompromised patients. For this reason, Gayatri has a long history of working tirelessly to bring her scientific discoveries to market to ensure reduction of the devastating impact that C. difficile has on the world population.
The nomination letters noted how many of Gayatri’s close collaborators are early career faculty, illustrating her role as a valued mentor to faculty, postdoctoral scholars, and students across and beyond the Urizona. This is a direct testament to Dr. Vedantam’s ability to represent the Women of Impact program – though she could easily develop (and in fact, does develop) strong collaborations with high-profile researchers, her mentoring record illustrates her passion for empowering others and working with younger generations of scientists to facilitate change.
Another notable highlight of nearly every nomination letter was that Gayatri is, quite simply, extremely humble, nurturing, and approachable. Nominators noted that it would be understandable if she were at least a little bit arrogant – after all, this is a woman who has rubbed elbows with Dr. Anthony Fauci! But nominator after nominator noted that Gayatri is kind and very down-to-earth. Though kindness was not a criterion for Women of Impact, it did provide just one more reason that Gayatri is so deserving of this award.
Gayatri, who earned CALES Teaching Faculty of the Year recognition in 2011 and Research Faculty of the Year in 2013 and 2018, said she is “honored and grateful” to be part of the 2023 Women of Impact. “For me, this award also acknowledges all the people in our team who make our research possible,” Gayatri said. “It’s a team award.”
Gayatri said her mission to help people lead healthier lives was sparked by her own life story. Her grandmother was the only one of the few survivors of the Bubonic Plague when it broke out in Southern India in the early 1900s.
“I’m here today because my grandma did not die of the plague,” said Gayatri, who currently teaches bacteriology and infectious diseases classes at the College of Medicine-Tucson. “I grew up hearing her stories, as well as those of how infectious diseases shaped the histories of her children. So, my grandmother and mother are women of impact in my life.
Nomination Information provided by Dr. Jean McLain
Award Celebration and Vedantam Profile information included from:
UArizona honors Women of Impact and Young Women of Impact at awards celebration - Research Innovation and Impact, Craig Reck
Women of Impact: Gayatri Vedantam’s quest to stop an elusive, deadly adversary - CALES, Joel Badzinski