Engineering associate dean and alumna recognized for their contributions in STEM


By Tessa M. Pick

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Tonya Peeples, associate dean for equity and inclusion and professor of chemical engineering in Penn State’s College of Engineering, and Penn State chemical engineering and Schreyer Scholar alumna Paula Garcia Todd recently received Million Women Mentors (MWM) Trailblazer Awards.

These awards were presented by STEMConnector, the nation’s largest professional services organization dedicated to developing a diverse, STEM-ready workforce.

MWM is a national and global movement that supports women in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields and helps promote opportunities through mentorship.

Peeples received the STEM Trailblazer 2020 award for her contributions in the STEM field in 2020. Garcia Todd received the Community Trailblazer award for her contributions to her community through mentor work with a nonprofit or community organization.

“Dr. Peeples has been at the forefront of equity, inclusion and diversity her entire career, while Mrs. Garcia Todd has supported and mentored the next generation of engineers for the last several years,” said Justin Schwartz, Harold and Inge Marcus Dean of Engineering. “We are so proud to have these women as part of the College of Engineering community.”

Since Peeples became the college’s inaugural associate dean for equity and inclusion in 2018, she has led all equity and inclusion initiatives for the Center for Engineering Outreach and Inclusion (CEOI). Additionally, she currently co-leads numerous projects funded by the National Science Foundation that focus on advancing diverse and inclusive faculty — including Aspire’s Institutional Change initiative. She has specifically worked to advance the college’s Equity Action Plan with a particular focus on recruitment, mentoring, retention and advancement of underrepresented students and faculty. Peeples has also worked to transform the college’s scholarship awarding processes and led in the creation of the Impact Scholars Program and the Clark Scholars Program.

In the past year, Peeples was inducted into the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering’s College of Fellows — joining the top 2% of medical and biological engineers, including three Nobel Laureates and 18 recipients of the Presidential Medal of Science and/or Technology and Innovation.

“I am truly honored to receive the award from MWM to be recognized for making an impact in the lives of people from underrepresented groups who aspire to enter STEM careers and advance in STEM communities,” Peeples said.

As a CEOI board member, Garcia Todd has mentored numerous Penn State students during the past decade. She currently works as a global strategic marketing manager at DuPont Nutrition and Bioscience, where she has mentored many younger employees and helped guide the STEM teachers in her local community.

“Within my community, I have found an unexpected mentoring experience in helping STEM teachers in my area better educate the next generation on the importance of STEM — and kids are always surprised to see a female engineer visit their classes,” Garcia Todd said. “I believe in the value of mentorship, and I am very honored to feel recognized for the time that I spend with students.”

Garcia Todd often visits local schools and organizations to introduce students to STEM-related activities and experiments. In 2019, Garcia Todd received a grant through the Association for the Advancement of Science after she was named an IF/THEN ambassador. She used the grant to partner with a nonprofit in Atlanta, Science ATL, to create a program that helps STEM educators from nine school districts across the metro-Atlanta area.

“We take 30 K-12 STEM teachers and partner them with 30 diverse STEM professionals for a year-long collaboration, where they connect in monthly engagements and jointly develop virtual classroom visits, career panels and class activities based on the needs of the educator,” Garcia Todd said. “Over 60% of our STEM professional volunteers are women, and almost three-fourths are culturally diverse.”

Peeples and Garcia Todd were recognized for their accomplishments and presented their awards during the virtual 2020 MWM Summit: Focusing on the Future on Oct. 27. This event featured keynote speakers Valerie Jarrett, former senior adviser to President Obama, and David Celentano, chair of epidemiology at Johns Hopkins.


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Megan Lakatos

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Tonya Peeples, associate dean for equity and inclusion and professor of chemical engineering in Penn State’s College of Engineering. IMAGE: PENN STATE COLLEGE OF ENGINEERING

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Paula Garcia Todd, Penn State chemical engineering and Schreyer Scholar alumna. IMAGE: PROVIDED BY PAULA GARCIA TODD