Knoxville - Pod of the Week

What is the key to organizing a strong network of women? For the Knoxville Pod, it has been persistence, openness, and a focused dedication to their mission. The pod is already busy planning some important (and awesome) activities! Read on to meet our #podoftheweek. 

Location: Knoxville, TN

Number of women: 35

Frequency of meetings: Monthly for general meeting, biweekly for sub-committees for outreach tasks

Mission statement: The 500 Women Scientists Knoxville Pod is dedicated to the enhancement of public understanding of science through outreach and education in rural communities, providing exposure to science in a framework sensitive to diverse world views.


You have so many women who have signed up for your pod, do you have tips for other pods across the country? What have you learned so far?

I must admit that I am very surprised at the number of women scientists who have signed up to be a KnoxPod member! It’s amazing to think that we all want to harness this momentum for a common goal of the visibility of the importance of science, technology, engineering, art, and math. We have members ranging from undergraduates to tenure-track faculty, from former school teachers, to artists who appreciate and incorporate science into their artwork. Our members are all vibrant, talented women who contribute positively to their community and I am so grateful that they have decided to use their skills to support the overarching mission of 500 WS.

My tip for member acquisition is to bring up your pod to any and everyone who will listen. Send out emails introducing yourself and the 500 WS mission to any listservs you can find. Not “reinventing the wheel” is crucial! There are so many great groups and organizations that have already been working on addressing issues of women in STEM and issues at the interface of science and policy. By reaching out to them and collaborating with them on events they have planned, member lists, social media followings, etc. we’re able to more effectively create a professional and personal network of allies to assist in our mission.

We’ve learned that many of us are busy, but if we all contribute just a little bit of time, energy, or know-how, we can accomplish big things! 

Knoxville 500WS Leadership Pod Meeting

Knoxville 500WS Leadership Pod Meeting

How has your pod ensured a diverse group of women scientists attend the pod meetings?

By reaching out to other organizations on UTK campus and in the Knoxville community that may not be science-oriented specifically, but do focus on some element of diversity (i.e. Commission for LGBTQA, National Society for Black Engineers, sororities, Indian Students Association, etc), we’re able to reach their members who may also be women in science. In addition, by then offering women of color, or women with another aspect of intersectional diversity (ability, socioeconomic background, etc.), a position in leadership of the pod, this helps explicitly bring more visibility to these underrepresented minority groups and allow for a formal platform where they can voice their preferences and support for the group.


How did you come to your mission, why is it relevant to your city and state?

Knoxville, TN

Knoxville, TN

In speaking with my women scientist friends after the election, I realized that so many of us were fervently seeking an outlet to better enhance public understanding of science and fact-based policy. There are already established groups on campus that actively engage with the community to make science accessible, however, I wanted to create a group that included scientists from nearby Oak Ridge National Laboratory and other local scientific facilities. During our first meeting, it immediately came to the forefront that engaging with rural areas of our state should be a priority, as these areas are largely lacking adequate public science education.


Can you talk about your first activity the pod is focusing on? What actions and outputs do you envision? Who is your audience?

Our first outreach activity will be to travel to rural elementary and middle schools in rural surrounding counties to do hands-on science demonstrations. Our pod has a diverse group of scientists—from engineers to microbiologists to paleontologists. School teachers are already so appreciative that the KnoxPod is paying special attention to their “little schools” and we are looking forward to nurturing these new relationships with rural school districts. It is the pod’s hope that we can expand our reach into other underserved districts as our programming becomes more established.


Will your pod be organizing for any of the marches this month? Anything special planned?

KnoxPod is an official partner for the Knoxville March for Science because we believe it is important to give visibility to all of the amazing female researchers we have in Knoxville and the surrounding areas. We will have a booth set up during the rally, where we will have info sheets on women scientists throughout history, as well as info on how to get involved with our upcoming outreach initiatives.

Pod Leadership: Meet Joy, Mallory and Kate

Pod Coordinator: Joy Buongiorno (@Joy_Buongiorno on Twitter) Joy is a third-year PhD student in the microbiology program at The University of Tennessee with a background in zoology and geology. Her current research takes her to Svalbard (79°N) where she studies microorganisms that inhabit sediments in Arctic fjords. In order to elucidate how climate warming and glacial retreat will disrupt the ecological structure and function of these microbial communities, she commonly couples genomic data, novel microscopy techniques, and environmental geochemical parameters. Her interdisciplinary background allows her to build a holistic understanding of her system. She has served as president of Darwin Day at UT, is the social media coordinator for the Department of Microbiology, and is the communications officer for the Forum on Science Ethics and Policy. She is very passionate about outreach within the community and promoting scientific literacy to enhance appreciation for fact-based policy.

Pod Historian: Kate Fullerton (@kfullzz on Twitter) Kate is currently a first year graduate student in the microbiology program at the University of Tennessee studying the microbial ecology of the Costa Rica subduction zone, with a degree in microbial biotechnology from Rutgers University. As a graduate student studying microbial ecology of subduction zones at UT, she intends to not only continue her education in STEM but also her advocacy for science communication and supporting women in science and engineering disciplines. As a member of the women’s college at Rutgers, Douglass Residential College, she was instilled with a passion for feminist mentoring and the retention of women in STEM fields. Throughout her studies, she wants to continue the mentorship cycle and impart her knowledge and experiences to the next generation of female scientists. 

Pod Networking Director: Mallory Ladd (@MassSpecMaven on Twitter) Mallory Ladd is a PhD candidate and NSF Graduate Research Fellow at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Her research lies at the interface of analytical chemistry and climate science and currently she is investigating how the chemistry of soil in the Arctic impacts the release of carbon from permafrost systems under warming temperatures. Alongside her scientific research, Mallory is interested in public policy, science communication, and being an advocate for the advancement of women and minorities in STEM fields. She currently serves as the networking director for the Knoxville 500 WS pod where she works to connect and form collaborations with other organizations in the Knoxville area that have overlapping missions or initiatives.


Photos of Knoxville landscapes provided by member Rose Borden.

Photo of lunch and Sunsphere in background provided by Mallory Ladd.