Professor Emerita of Biology Kathryn Edwards’ career at Kenyon was a career of firsts. She was the first woman to receive tenure at Kenyon in the natural sciences in 1984. She became the first female chair of the Department of Biology in 1990. And she was one of the first professors on campus to inspire a new generation of female students after Kenyon began accepting women in 1969.
On Saturday, March 25, alumni, students and faculty gathered for “Celebrating Women in Science” to Edwards’ career before she retires at the end of this year. The symposium celebrated the achievements that the women of Kenyon College have made in the sciences.
Edwards, who teaches courses in women’s and gender studies and biology, has researched plant biology since her arrival at Kenyon in 1978. Edwards’ former students described her as a mother figure and teacher ahead of her time. Edwards has been published in the American Society for Gravitational and Space Research. In addition to her academic work, Edwards is the coordinator for the Kenyon Academic Partnership in Biology and advises the Kenyon Equestrian Team.
Vani Patibandla ’93, who was the only woman in her dental residency program in 1999, was one of the earliest students to study biochemistry at Kenyon, a synoptic major that Edwards helped create. Patibandla was part of an alumnae panel Edwards chaired called “Kenyon Women at Work: Building Careers in Science.” The other panelists were Stephanie Blumer ’98, Susan Hudson ’81 P’19 and Karen Scott ’98, all of whom were Edwards’ students.
“I feel we are all her children,” Patibandla said of Edwards during the panel. She also called Edwards an “example of love, sincerity and kindness.”
The Women in Science symposium kicked off with a networking lunch featuring remarks by President Sean Decatur and alumnae from the first classes of women at Kenyon. Next, Associate Professor of Biology Drew Kerkhoff led a panel in Peirce Lounge titled “Transformation of Women Faculty at Kenyon,” which featured former Professors Joan Cadden and Rita Kipp H’07, and current Associate Professor of Psychology Irene López and Professor of Physics Paula Turner.
Hudson, who is the director of midwifery services at the Cleveland Clinic, called Edwards “innovative as a scientist-educator.” Hudson attributed her ability to start a relationship with the woman who would become her wife to Edwards’ openness with topics of gender and gender identity.
Scott credits Edwards with continuing Biology of Female Sexuality, a beloved course that the alumnae found highly impactful, in the face of skepticism of its worth and appropriateness. She believes the course has had such a widespread impact that it has prevented sexual assault on campus since Edwards’ began teaching it.
Blumer considered Edwards a part of the second family she found at Kenyon. Edwards once said to her: “Women apologize too much — you are one of the worst I’ve ever seen.” Blumer’s imitation of Edwards’ body language drew a long, friendly laugh from the audience.
After the panels, the group decamped to the Alumni Dining Room for networking and a reception.
“That was easily my favorite part,” said Rachel Arens ’18, a neuroscience major. “It sounds cheesy, [but the best advice I got] was to really believe in myself,” Arens said. “There’s still a lot of stigma against women being in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) fields.”
“I recently got an internship for computational neuroscience and my first thought was ‘Yay, I’m so excited for this opportunity, and my second thought was ‘Oh, they needed a girl,’ because I didn’t feel like I was prepared for that position,” Arens added. “I didn’t feel like I deserved it, but I did, and it’s important to remember that everyone is worthy.”