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The Scarlet & Black

Mahlab finalist in women’s technology innovation award

Minna Mahlab works with Post-Baccalaureate Fellow Keneil Brown ’14 in Noyce Science Center. Photo by Jun Taek Lee.

Minna Mahlab, director of the Science Learning Center at Grinnell College, is one of the finalists in the Technology Association of Iowa’s Women of Innovation Awards. The awards will be announced and presented on Tuesday, Nov. 11 at the Prairie Meadows Events and Conference Center in Altoona, Iowa.

According to the group’s website, the association aims to assist technology organizations in any way it can—and one way it does so is by increasing support for groups that are underrepresented in the sciences, such as women. This award recognizes women in a variety of categories for doing different kinds of innovative work in different scientific fields.

Mahlab was nominated in the Post-Secondary Academic Innovation and Leadership Award for women who have played a significant role in curriculum development, student research and teacher-student collaborations. Nominations are typically given to women who have often received outside funding and/or peer recognition and who have marketed and promoted careers in technology, science or engineering to other women, according to the organization’s website.

Though Mahlab’s credentials are strong by any measure, she said she had not anticipated a formal nomination for her work.

Minna Mahlab works with Post-Baccalaureate Fellow Keneil Brown ’14 in Noyce Science Center. Photo by Jun Taek Lee.
Minna Mahlab works with Post-Baccalaureate Fellow Keneil Brown ’14 in Noyce Science Center.
Photo by Jun Taek Lee.

“My colleague [Professor] Henry Walker, [Mathematics and Statistics], in particular nominated me without telling me. It was sort of a surprise because I never heard of this organization and I would not [have] thought of nominating myself. But here we are, and I am really gratified that my colleague thinks so well of me,” Mahlab said.     

Mahlab’s active participation was also likely a major component of her nomination process, as she is highly involved with the Grinnell Science Department as the director of the Science Learning Center. Her duties include running the peer education and mentoring program, but Mahlab does additional work individually with students while developing Grinnell’s science curriculum with fellow faculty members and programs like the Grinnell Science Program.

“I believe I am a really skilled teacher and I enjoy teaching,” Mahlab said. “And I enjoy to help college students, in particular to help them … find their place in life. I find it enormously satisfying. It is far more appealing to me to do that than sitting in a physics lab.”     

Mahlab’s primary goal is to improve the education system. Mahlab noted that historically—and currently—many social groups, and women in particular, are severely underrepresented in the sciences. She noted that the result was the scientific field having lost many things that “humans can’t even imagine.” Mahlab noted that mistakes from the past should not be repeated and that she envisions the future to be more progressive with these respects.

“I would love to see a culture where everybody is valued for what they contribute in the context of their ability and resources so that anyone, regardless of their identities, can make a really good choice about how they want to spend their time, without having to reflect on what the expectations of their societies and culture are,” Mahlab said. “It is unfortunate that so many of us feel so compelled to stay in that very small sphere. It would be very nice if we could enlarge it a little bit.”

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