As a high school student in Hamburg, Pa., Ashley Lojko ’22 enjoyed tackling difficult problems in her math and physics classes, but nothing filled her with a greater sense of accomplishment than when she solved a challenging chemistry puzzle. The discipline seemed to hold the answers to so many of the questions that Lojko had about the world around her – and it stimulated her thinking in ways that other courses did not. It soon became clear not just to her, but to her teachers and friends, that she’d found her calling.
Today Lojko is a chemistry major at Le Moyne College, where she spends approximately eight hours per week working in a lab run by Assistant Professor of Chemistry Emily Harcourt, Ph.D. She is helping with a study that Harcourt began several years ago on antimicrobial peptides, small biological molecules with antibiotic properties. Lojko is helping to contribute to the body of scientific knowledge. She is also refining her skills as a researcher. She is learning what it means to design and execute an experiment; what to do when something in the experiment goes wrong; and what it takes to be part of a successful research team. Most important, she is developing what she calls her “scientific intuition.”
The work Lojko is doing is aided by the support of the Clare Boothe Luce Research Program at Le Moyne. Named for playwright, journalist, U.S. ambassador to Italy and first woman elected to Congress from Connecticut, the program encourages women like Lojko to pursue vocations in science, mathematics and engineering by providing them with research, networking and professional development opportunities. The Clare Boothe Luce Program has become one of the single largest sources of private funding for women’s STEM higher education in the United States. As of 2021, the program has supported more than 2,800 women in STEM through a total of 819 grants to 200 different institutions, including 65 minority-serving institutions. It comes at a critical time. According to a recent U.S. Census report, “Despite making up nearly half of the U.S. workforce, women are still vastly underrepresented in the science, technology, engineering and math workforce.” This disparity is concerning. Studies have long shown that diverse teams arrive at better decisions than homogeneous ones. They tend to focus more on facts, to process those facts more carefully, and to be more creative in their thinking.
Following her graduation from Le Moyne, she plans to attend graduate school and then, perhaps, to teach at the college level. She credits her time at Le Moyne and the experience she gained through the Clare Boothe Luce Research Program with helping her to prepare for this by providing her with invaluable practical experience. She’s learned how to think more critically, to solve problems and to work effectively as part of a team, not just when things went as she expected they would in the lab, but when challenges arose.
“I learned so much from the program,” she says. “I can’t wait to put it to use in the future.”
In addition to her involvement with the Clare Boothe Luce Research Program, Lojko is also a member of Stempower, a leading-edge program that allows women studying STEM at Le Moyne to community, increase their self-confidence and find their career path.
This story is part of a series on students participating in the Clare Boothe Luce Research Program at Le Moyne.