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March 17, 2021

Spartan women trailblazers

Every day at Michigan State University, women faculty, staff and students contribute to the excellence and vitality of the university. Advancing discovery. Leading innovation. Creating opportunities for others. Driven by their own experiences, perspectives and passions to make a difference and a better tomorrow for all. Below is a selection of Spartan women who are making history today.

Tamara Reid Bush
Interim Chair in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, College of Engineering

As a child, Tamara Reid Bush enjoyed taking things apart and seeing how they worked. Today, Reid Bush creates tools and devices that can improve daily life for individuals with disabilities or those who have undergone surgical procedures. She currently serves as the first woman to chair the Department of Mechanical Engineering at MSU.

“My father was a veterinarian, and I found his work with orthopedics — such as bone repair — fascinating. It was remarkable to me that you could repair a bone with a metal plate and the animals could function as if nothing ever happened. So, his medical experiences coupled with my interests in math and physics are what led me to mechanical engineering and applying mechanics to the human body.

My motivation for making sure girls see themselves as potential engineers is really critical. Once they see other women engineers, then they begin to think this might be an option for them as well. It is important for women to see other women in roles that they may wish to pursue, whether it is an engineer, a faculty member or a chairperson. My male students recognize the challenges women in STEM face, and they are advocates as well as many male faculty in my department.”

Mona Hanna-Attisha
Charles Stewart Mott Endowed Professor of Public Health in the College of Human Medicine

Pediatrician Mona Hanna-Attisha was the first to identify elevated blood lead levels in children during the Flint water crisis and continues to advocate for their health and safety as director of the MSU-Hurley Children’s Hospital Pediatric Public Health Initiative. She also is part of the Protect Michigan Commission, an initiative by the state to educate Michiganders about COVID-19 vaccines.

“I went into medicine and public health to make a difference, to serve and to make the world a better place. That is exactly what I have been able to do and what I continue to do every day. As an academic, it has also reaffirmed my belief that academic institutions and science can play a tremendous and partnered role in the health of communities.

At the Protect Michigan Commission, we will work as a team to help raise awareness of the approved COVID-19 vaccines’ safety and effectiveness, educate the people of this state and help protect all Michigan residents’ health and safety. For me, the COVID-19 vaccine is our way forward to reopening society and a thriving economy, saving lives and hugs. I am a hugger, and I cannot wait to give out hugs again safely.”

Sally Nogle
Head Athletic Trainer for MSU Athletics

Sally Nogle was the first woman to become an athletic trainer for a Big Ten football team when she came to MSU in 1983 and was promoted to head athletic trainer in 2013. Nogle is a member of the National Athletic Trainers Association Hall of Fame and brings Olympic experience to her role as a trainer.

“I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to work in football when many other programs in the country were only allowing males in those type of positions back then. Hopefully seeing a female working in football has shown other women and girls that if you have a passion and love for football and want to work with this sport, there are countless opportunities to do so.

I love what I do. Athletic training combines my love of health care and sports. Athletic trainers get the fortunate opportunity to work with and learn new knowledge and skills from athletes, coaches, administrators, physicians and other health care providers to help prevent, evaluate and treat injuries and illnesses. Working with all these different people keeps my passion for the athletic training profession going.”

Yoo Jin Noh
Doctoral student in the College of Music

Yoo Jin Noh has paid close attention to sounds from her environment since she was a child, leading to her interest in music. Without her sense of sight, Noh, an award-winning pianist, is developing an innovative tactile music system that creates a 3D-printed roadmap of a composition, allowing blind students and their sighted music teachers to see music in the same way.

“I anticipate this project could help more of the sightless population to be exposed to reading and learning music. Since this material is targeted for both Braille and non-Braille readers, I expect it would also open possibilities for blind teachers to educate sighted students.

As a totally blind person, I want to be an inspirational concert pianist and motivational mentor for people with disabilities. During my musical journey, I could hardly find any blind classical musicians available to fully accommodate my needs. There was a huge void that I felt while growing up and training as a young musician, and my motivation is to fill the gaps that are felt by many other younger blind musicians.”

Sandra Crespo
Professor in the Department of Teacher Education, College of Education

Sandra Crespo was the first Latina to be named a full professor in the Department of Teacher Education at MSU. Crespo has conducted research funded by the National Science Foundation to improve math teacher education and equity in the classroom, the results of which were integrated into MSU’s Teacher Preparation Program.

“Being a Latinx professor in my field of mathematics education comes with lots of microaggressions that reveal the false assumptions and stereotypes people have been fed about who is supposed to be and look like a professor in a STEM field. The support and encouragement that I have had from my mentors, colleagues and department chairs have made it possible for me to not just survive but also to thrive and to contribute to MSU and to my field of mathematics education.

My research aims to change the role of mathematics as a gatekeeping tool and how it is taught in schools so that more students see themselves as being ‘good at math’ and use it toward the common good. I believe in the power of education to be a liberating force, and I believe that everyone deserves a great education.”

Ruth Nicole Brown
Professor and Chair in the Department of African American and African Studies, College of Arts and Letters

“It is with great pleasure and a sense of profound responsibility that I serve as the inaugural chairperson of the Department of African American and African Studies at MSU.

The collectively constructed vision statement for AAAS means a great deal to me: ‘We insist that Black studies uncovers and creates ‘technologies of living’ for Black people and Black futures. And when we say Black people, we mean all Black people. And when we say Black futures, that is to say beyond survival into wellness.

For those of us who have been marginalized by schooling, we want to see change beyond symbolic representation to include systemic and institutional changes that do not make it possible for inequities and injustices to persist. As a Black woman in a leadership position, I bring the sum of my experiences, networks and resources to MSU. I know that this then makes it possible for more people to see themselves as a part of what we are doing in AAAS at MSU.”

Lisa Lachowski and Samantha Barringer
Drum Majors with the Spartan Marching Band

“We are incredibly happy, honored and grateful for the opportunity to lead the Spartan Marching Band. The added celebration of being the first pair of women makes us think back to the strong women and leaders who came before us.

As drum majors in the SMB, a majority of our work happens behind the scenes. The public may see the traditional pregame routine (with the backbend), but every day during rehearsal we serve as visual teachers and drill coordinators. Our band’s high step style and 'patterns in motion' are unique to MSU, taught from generation to generation. Additionally, we serve the band as two of four band officers, taking the weekly temperature of the band and acting as liaison between members and directors.

We are each driven by the relationships created within this organization, past and present. Putting on the uniform every Saturday elicits feelings of pride, gratitude and extreme unity. There is nothing else like it.”

Farha Abbasi
Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychiatry, College of Osteopathic Medicine

Farha Abbasi founded the Muslim Mental Health Conference, the first of its kind to go global. A major focus of her work is cultural psychiatry and teaching medical students how to provide culturally appropriate care to patients.

“Mental and addictive disorders affect more than 1 billion people globally. The numbers are growing while resources continue to shrink. At the tail end of the COVID-19 pandemic, we are seeing a huge pandemic of mental illnesses unfolding. My hope with advocacy is to create awareness that there can be no health without mental health and to take it out of the fringes of the policies to the center of every health initiative.

In Sufism, we believe sometimes you choose your purpose and sometimes the purpose chooses you. As a mental health provider, you become the bearer of pain when you walk beside someone through this journey of suffering and see them make it. What can be more profound than that?”

Abii-Tah Bih
Senior in James Madison College

Abii-Tah Bih is MSU’s first Black woman to lead MSU’s student government, the Associated Students of MSU. An international student from Cameroon studying international relations, Bih works to advance a vision in which all Spartans feel they belong.

“I joined ASMSU in my sophomore year. It took me a whole year to muster the courage and when I did, the thought of becoming student body president was laughable. Everything changed for me in the fall of 2019. After multiple bias incidents wreaked havoc on campus, I passed the bill that led to mandatory Diversity, Equity and Inclusion training on campus, but that was not enough. MSU is our home and I craved to create structures to enable students to feel indispensable.

I ran for president to enable a student body that empowers each other, enacts history together and chooses to leave nobody behind. Every day, it is my hope that the work I do advances that vision. I knew that if I opened this door as the first Black female president, then many others will never have to question themselves like I did. I am in this position today because of the hard work of the international students, Black women and mentors who have paved the way.”

Carrie Heeter
Professor in the Department of Media and Information, College of Communication Arts and Sciences

Carrie Heeter’s interest in instructional media began as a 13-year-old, when she convinced her high school teachers to use television for learning. Heeter has worked with emerging technologies for nearly five decades, serving as the founding director of MSU's Communication Technology Laboratory, now the Games for Entertainment and Learning Lab. She also started MSU's Serious Games Graduate Certificate Program and helped launch the international Meaningful Play Conference.

“My entire life, I have been designing and studying innovative experiences that matter and sharing them with people, while learning and growing every step of the way. My efforts include research to understand gender and games, personally creating meaningful games that did not replicate the established game genres and creating welcoming spaces.

There’s a long way to go, but at game industry conferences now there are lines to get into the women’s restroom. I urge students to take classes, create portfolios, and network with classmates and industry professionals. Find your voice. Don’t just repeat what has already been done. You don’t have to.”

By: Meredith Mescher and Deon Foster