For Women’s History Month, UC Davis female faculty and a student share their achievements

For Women’s History Month, UC Davis female faculty and a student share their achievements

Photo Credits: Katherine Hung / Aggie

Female faculty and a graduate student offer advice for young female leaders

This article is the second in a two-part series in honor of Women’s History Month in which The California Aggie interviews a few of the many distinguished women across campus who have made an impact on their community. These women discuss their various achievements, female influences and offer advice for young women as they pursue their goals. 

Michal Kurlaender 

Professor and department chair at the UC Davis School of Education 

Achievements 

Michal Kurlaender has been studying the educational system from grade school through college and into the labor market. Kurlaender’s work focuses on the economic public policy, sociology and social psychology associated with the education system. 

“I am really interested in integrating different disciplinary perspectives to answer questions about how to reduce inequality in the education system,” Kurlaender said. “A lot of my work is focused on trying to understand whether policies can reduce some of the gaps that we see in educational attainment by race, income, gender and other characteristics.”

During the pandemic, Kurlaender has also done work to help students who have had to suspend their education and career plans due to COVID-19. Her efforts include helping students reach their educational and economic needs as well as gain mental health support during the pandemic. In addition, Kurlaender takes great pride in helping the graduate students she mentors navigate through their career paths. 

The female experience

Kurlaender discussed how being a woman has had an impact on her career.

“I think being a woman is part of my strength,” Kurlaender said. “I feel proud of what I have been able to accomplish as a woman and there are so many people who have supported me to get to where I am today. I am fortunate that I was mentored by both men and women who really believed that I could have a productive career and a family.”

Kurlaender gave some further insight into the gendered power imbalance in her field of study. 

“I think even in a field like education, which is often considered more feminized, we see some of the same inequalities,” Kurlaender said. “Inequalities in promotion, acceleration or advancement in the field are somewhat gendered. I think we still have a long way to go to equalize and understand how to support women academics in a way that honors their professional work and recognizes the societal demands that challenge those rights.” 

Advice

Kurlaender offered some advice to women who are about to enter the workforce. 

“The first thing is to uplift each other,” Kurlaender said. “We can really help or hinder further advancement, and one of the best things you can do is support other women.”

She also encouraged students to seek out mentors. 

“The other thing is to utilize female mentors,” Kurlaender said. “Your generation is going to have more and more of them and there are a lot of women out there who are just eager to convince young women to enter their profession and help them succeed. Our job is to not have you go through the hardships that we went through as a working woman. We want to make sure that the workplace is a hospitable place for all kinds of people.”


Joanna Mazet 

Professor of Epidemiology & Disease Ecology 

Former director of One Health Workforce — Next Generation 

Achievements 

Joanna Mazet is a professor of epidemiology and disease ecology at the UC Davis veterinary school and was the former director of the One Health Institute. Mazet noted that mentoring the next generation of health leaders has been one of her proudest achievements. 

“I am extremely proud to say that the majority of the graduate students and postdocs I have worked with have been women in STEM,” Mazet said. “I am pleased to have been able to contribute to their growth and to have learned from all of them, including the men.”

In addition, Mazet has led multidisciplinary teams to work on global health problems using a One Health approach. 

“I have worked on issues of pathogen pollution and conservation for sea otters and other marine species,” Mazet said. “I have also been a part of projects that try to identify issues before they become available to make people sick and cause epidemics and pandemics. Over the last decade, I have led the predict project, which was building the capacities around the world to have resilient systems to respond to virus outbreaks and help identify and characterize viruses before they make people sick.” 

The female experience

For Mazet, being a woman has impacted her approach to her work.

“Being a woman is part of who I am and it shapes the way I think about the world and approach my job,” Mazet said. “Being a mom has also been instrumental in shaping my frame of reference and perspective of the work. Being a woman has also shaped my approach to bringing people into the fold to work together collaboratively. I know men do that as well, but what I am trying to say is that the way that I approach the process of science and education is shaped by my femininity.” 

Influences 

Mazet cited former Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg as her greatest female influence. 

“Ruth Bader Ginsburg was an amazing role model for me because of her work in the civil rights for women, and civil rights beyond women or BIPOC,” Mazet said. “There have been so many women throughout my career who have inspired me and supported me by helping me navigate throughout various obstacles, and I am incredibly thankful for them as well.”

Advice

Mazet offered advice to women who are about to enter the workforce. 

“Be strong, be enthusiastic, and most importantly be yourself,” Mazet said. “Reach out and make connections with supportive allies who can help you. You don’t have to learn everything fresh, and I think that’s a mistake that I made. Women are a driving force in our society, including our academic community. We must be supportive of one another.” 


Jennifer Gross 

Head coach for the UC Davis Women’s Basketball team

Achievements 

Jennifer Gross has been an Aggie since she was a student athlete in the ‘90s. After graduating from UC Davis, Gross went on to be an assistant coach at the university. She has been the head coach for the Women’s Basketball team for almost 10 years now. This past year, with the help of Gross, the team won their fourth straight Big West championship. 

“I work with amazing individuals and students at UC Davis,” Gross said. “I get to coach bright, driven and passionate young women at UC Davis, and I absolutely love it. They make this job so rewarding, and my goal is to give them the best experience possible and to have them graduating saying, ‘Wow that was the best four [or] five years of my life.”

Influences 

Gross cited her mother as being one of her greatest female influences. 

“My mom used to live by this mantra, which I continue to live by, she would say to ‘Treat people with kindness,’” Gross said. “My mom was kind of the epitome of that, people love being around her because she’s warm and inclusive and a really kind person.” 

In addition, Gross noted that many of her coaches, male and female, had a great influence on her career choice and advancements. 

“When I got to college, I played for a woman named Jorja Hoehn, she was this very strong personality,” Gross said. “She was the first female that I saw in that role that stood up for whatever she believed in even though there were a lot of times she was surrounded by a male-dominated administration. It was really inspiring to get a chance to play for such a strong woman who taught us how to speak up and provide the best possible experience for the student athletes I coach today.”

Advice

Gross offered advice to women who are interested in joining athletics or about to enter the workforce. 

“Reach out and connect with people,” Gross said. “I try to tell our student athletes, the bigger your network, the more opportunities will present themselves. There is this network of women who want to help the younger generation be successful, and I think sometimes people are afraid to reach out and ask for help from someone they don’t know. But there is no harm in reaching out, the worst thing that can happen is that they don’t get back to you, but just know that the next person will. I think it’s really important to kind of step outside your shell and connect and listen to other people’s experiences. You will be amazed to find out how many people are willing to help.”


Caro Novella Centellas 

Ph.D. candidate in performance studies, DE in feminist theory and research and DE in practice as research 

Founder of Oncogrrrls 

Achievements 

Caro Novella Centellas is a Ph.D. candidate in performance studies with a designated emphasis (DE) in feminist theory and research. Centellas is currently a Catlan performing artist-researcher. Her focus has been on the incorporation of several forms of contemporary and community dance, community health and engaged performances that address health and politics. 

“I have pursued health and social change through communication and art-making both in academia and the social justice worlds, and each has nuanced my different approaches to the practice,” Centellas said. “Over a decade of participatory and community health work in Spain, Burkina Faso, Colombia, Ecuador and the U.S., I attended to designing spaces for community dialogue, awareness and health education.”

Centellas is the founder of Oncogrrrls, a research and creation performance project with women and queer and trans individuals that aims to address questions surrounding cancer. 

“Through live performance art, poetic actions, art installation, video-dance pieces, fanzines, public screenings and conferences, Oncogrrrls centers activism through art inquiry,” Centellas said. “Oncogrrrls creates new oncological publics and has fostered more extensive discussions on cancer politics, moving conversations beyond individual stories of survivorship and into environmental health, bioethics and social justice artworlds.”

Being a woman 

Centellas discussed how her femininity has influenced her work. 

“Many times I wonder how much more direct access and support I would have if I had not been a woman,” Centellas said. “It’s not easy navigating [the] expectations of cuteness and domesticity, as well as constant harassment and misrecognition, over-extended work, self-doubt, perfectionism and never being enough. As I got older, and as I got more and more entangled with transfeminist networks, it has gotten better: not as in easier opportunities or recognition, particularly in the art world, but much better in the ability to be in emotionally nurturing, intellectually interesting and politically committed environments.”

Influences

Centellas cited the women in Oncogrrrls, her oncologist and her grandmother as her biggest influences. 

“I was inspired by the Riot grrrls and the Guerilla grrrls,” Centellas said. “Women art movement collectives [that] center women’s critical voices and hope to call in responses of resistance, collective power and critical art. My oncologist, Dr. Alonso treated me and my grandmother for ovarian cancer. Getting her to be my doctor was very reassuring.” 

Advice

Centellas offered some advice to young women. 

“Stick with the grrrls,” Centellas said. “Keep joy at the center, and cultivate relationships with people whom you can be as tender and witty as you feel like. Something that I wish I had trained earlier in life: giving time and space to clarify my intentions and practicing setting stronger boundaries.”  

Written by: Sneha Ramachandran — features@theaggie.org