Leading the way

Every day, women are expanding boundaries, pushing forward and showing up in the areas of scholarship, academia and research. And when that happens, we are all better for it. Read about eight remarkable WashU Women who are at the top of their game, showing up with grace and leading the way.

Victoria Fraser MD


Smoothing the path

Victoria J. Fraser, MD, blazed a path to the top of academic medicine, and then turned her attention to smoothing out the bumps on the path for women and members of other under-represented groups who came behind her. As chair of the John T. Milliken Department of Medicine, she is the first female head of the largest department at the medical school. She commands immense authority and respect as a physician, scientist and leader and uses that eminence to advocate for equity in academic medicine and to address structural barriers that limit the careers of women and members of other under-represented groups.

Hannah Perfecto


Better decisions, better choices

Every day we make thousands of decisions, from the small — what to eat? what to wear? — to the potentially life-changing choices involving our health or financial future. Consumer behavior psychologist Hannah Perfecto does her research at the juncture of judgment and decision-making and has learned none of it has to be so hard. “Most of the time we’re not that enthused by the options we’re facing,” she says. But we can feel better about the process by making one tiny change – reframing the question. Here’s how.

Crickette Sanz


The social network

Biological anthropologist Crickette Sanz has devoted her career to the study of primates, particularly chimpanzees, in the steps of Jane Goodall — her friend and mentor. As co-principal investigator of the Goualougo Triangle Ape Project in the Republic of Congo, she is in daily contact with one of the only places in the world where chimpanzee and the western lowland gorillas interact. And as a scientist who has made it her life’s work to study social structures of primates, she knows firsthand how important it is to forge strong social connections. “Social networks are key,” she says. “My family, friends, co-workers and neighbors who band together to provide support in various forms have been so important to me, in so many ways.” And they, in turn, have allowed her to make groundbreaking advances in anthropology.

Peggie Smith

Public Service Law

Paying it forward

Peggie Smith is a champion for strengthening the rights and legal protections of domestic workers, particularly Black women. She became interested in the issue while in graduate school, realizing that there was little research and effort at the time around such laborers’ particular concerns and perspectives. But she credits her first-grade teacher, with whom she still keeps in touch, with inspiring her to go into teaching rather than practicing law — allowing to pay back her teacher by serving as a role model for future lawyers, especially women of color. 

Lindsay Stark

Social Science

Shining a light on the forgotten

Lindsay Stark shines a light on some of the most endangered, exploited and forgotten people in the world. By unearthing and measuring data on women and children in hazardous settings such as war zones or refugee camps, she helps find ways to keep them safe. “I’m often looking at populations that have been forgotten because they’re hidden and stigmatized in some ways,” Stark says. “It’s often the case that if a phenomenon doesn’t get counted, it doesn’t count in the eyes of policy makers and programmers, and so a lot of my work is helping raise visibility around issues that have often been neglected or swept under the rug.”

Aggie Toppins


Harnessing the power of design

Even though our lives are immersed in design, we barely notice the power it has over us. “Design is the underlying structure of everyday life,” says Aggie Toppins. “You encounter design in almost every activity you do. If you go to the grocery store, you’re encountering design from the arrangement of the parking spaces to the directional signage in the store to the packages on the shelf to the way you move through the checkout line.” Toppins, a graphic designer, educator and historian, has devoted her career to critically examining design to uncover its influence on society.

Beverly Wendland

Higher Education

The essential academic

In the early, unsettling months of the COVID-19 pandemic, Beverly Wendland began a dream job as provost at one of the country’s top research universities — a challenge at any time but more so in the summer of 2020. Drawing on a background that blended science with the humanities, she immediately got to work easing fears and building bridges across all facets of the university.  “I basically had to roll up my sleeves, jump in the pool at the deep end and start swimming,” she says.

Quing Zhu

Photoimaging Technology

Engineering a better way to treat cancer

Biomedical engineer Quing Zhu has spent her career at the intersection of technology and medicine, seeking a better way to diagnose and treat cancer. Now, she’s one of the driving forces behind the Women’s Health Technologies Initiative, which aims to apply engineering technology to develop new strategies to improve the detection, diagnosis and treatment of conditions affecting the female reproductive system. “I have been working on breast and ovarian cancer research for the past two decades and always have a passion to improve women’s health,” Zhu says.

Producer: Kristin Grupas
Writer/Editor: Leslie McCarthy
Animation: Javier Ventura
Visual design: Monica Duwel
Web design: Kristen Gau
Contributors: Tamara Bhandari, Rosalind Early, Julie Kennedy, Kelly Wiese Niemeyer

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