At an ongoing outdoor exhibit in Dallas, Texas, Duke alumnae Jessica Taaffe stands among more than 120 3D-printed statues of women who were determined to be “STEM innovators” by an initiative of Lyda Hill Philanthropies.
Taaffe’s interests lie at the intersection of science and policy. Her resume includes time at the World Bank and various science outreach and communications initiatives. In interviews for the IF/THEN Exhibit, she describes being motivated by the application of science, not just the discovery process, and bringing people together to confront challenges like integrating data into how we care for people, advances in global health and more.
“I went to grad school, got my Ph.D. in microbiology, and I also have a degree in Medieval and Renaissance Studies,” she explained. “So I took classes in history and architecture and literature, all in this area. I love the humanities. To tell you the truth, I think that it’s what made me a better communicator in science.”
Taafte graduated from Duke in 2004 with that major in Renaissance Studies as well as a major in Biology. Also featured among the IF/THEN scientist statues are Lekelia (Kiki) Jenkins, who holds a Ph.D. in Environmental Sciences, and Sylvia Earle, who earned an Master’s and Ph.D. in Botany at Duke – today part of the Department of Biology.
“Scientists, women in STEM actually, pursing non-traditional paths in science were always there for me,” Taafte told interviewers. “And I needed that. That’s what kept me going. If you allow a girl to explore her interest in STEM, then she can do things that she never thought – and maybe others didn’t think – was possible.”
The exhibit will remain on display at NorthPark Center until October 24.