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Professor Jin Montclare Has Long Championed Women in STEM

Jin Montclare teaching two female students

While only about 20 percent of the student body at the average engineering school in the U.S. is female, NYU Tandon is making enormous strides on that front. The numbers are striking: women make up 40 percent of the Tandon Class of 2021, and for the Class of 2022 that figure jumps to 43 percent.

Much of that progress is due to rigorous efforts over the last several years to recruit and retain aspiring young female engineers, and few figures at Tandon have been as instrumental in those efforts as Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering Jin Kim Montclare. From the time she arrived at Tandon in mid-2005 to launch her eponymous protein engineering and molecular design lab, Montclare has been a strong voice for the importance of diversity, inclusion, and mentorship. Her own statistics are undeniably impressive: 51 percent of the undergraduates she has taught and directly mentored during her time here and 57 percent of the graduate students and post-doctoral researchers have been women or members of other underrepresented minorities.

Montclare, famed among her students for her attention to detail and ability to multitask, concurrently serves as a staunch advocate and a top-tier researcher. She has made breakthrough strides, for example, in using engineered proteins to detoxify organophosphates, compounds commonly used in pesticides and warfare agents (such as sarin) that pose grave health hazards to people and animals. Additionally, she has created biomimetic protein materials that hold potential for treatment of multi-drug resistant cancer cells, osteoarthritis and more, and she is developing an engineered protein-lipid system that simultaneously delivers genes and drugs for diabetic wound healing, melanoma brain cancers, and other conditions requiring a multi-pronged therapeutic approach.

Her list of honors includes the Agnes Fay Morgan Research Award from the National Honor Society for Women in Chemistry, the Executive Leadership in Academic Technology and Engineering Fellowship, the Jacobs Excellence in Education Award, the Dreyfus Special Grants Program Award, the AFOSR Young Investigator Award, the Wechsler Award for Excellence, and the American Chemical Society’s prestigious Rising Star Award, but Montclare has never been willing to rest on her many laurels.

Known within the Tandon community as one of the earliest and most vociferous voices for gender equality and inclusion, she has been equally passionate about the importance of entrepreneurial thinking; among her most recent initiatives is the launch of Tandon’s Convergence for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE) Institute, which helps faculty and students build their entrepreneurial skills and encourages diverse and multidisciplinary approaches to the world’s problems.

The road to founding the CIE was a natural one for Montclare: in 2013 she and a group of her students were invited to be part of the National Science Foundation’s New York City Regional Innovation Node (NYCRIN), a part of the NSF’s groundbreaking Innovation Corps (I-Corps) program, which aims to prepare academic researchers to become entrepreneurs and speeds the commercialization of their research. Under its auspices, they co-founded a venture called inSchoolApps, which develops mobile and web apps to enhance science education in the classroom. Later, in 2017, with the help of a generous NSF I-Corps Site grant for “Enhancing Diversity in STEM Entrepreneurship,” she arranged for a cohort of 30 teams to spend the summer developing their business ideas and learning Lean Launchpad methodology. Notably, 54 percent of the participants were female, and the second cohort, admitted in January 2018, was 60 percent female. “We know that STEM entrepreneurship holds great appeal to all of our students but that misconceptions and apprehensions sometimes discourage women and underrepresented minorities from participating,” she said, explaining the impetus for the program.

Cohort participants have developed a wide range of products and services, from a method of generating power from food waste to an interactive video-sharing app for the education market that employs machine learning techniques — “a testament to the importance of having different voices and points of view at the table,” according to Montclare.

In addition to her own research, advocacy, and entrepreneurial focus, Montclare has yet another area of intense interest: getting the city’s youngest students excited about Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM). She has spearheaded an outreach program to help introduce those areas to students at Brooklyn’s Urban Assembly Institute of Math and Science for Young Women, and she invites a group of high school students into her NYU Tandon lab to conduct research each summer under the auspices of the university’s Center for K-12 Education. She estimates that those programs have reached more than 650 of the city’s schoolchildren.

You might be thinking that Montclare seems like something of a superhero, and artists at Marvel Comics apparently agree. She has, in fact, been depicted in the pages of the series Unstoppable Wasp, which follows the exploits of the members of GIRLS (Genius in Action Research Labs), female scientists out to save the world!

Convergence for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE)

Find out how to participate in the CIE I-Corps

Words from Professor Montclare's Mentees...

Aparajita Bhattacharya

Ph.D. Candidate

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I have great respect for how hard Jin has worked to establish herself as a woman in the sciences and great admiration for how she is now working to help others do the same.

Unfortunately, it’s not unheard of for labs to be places where you’ll experience sexism or even harassment, but we don’t have to worry about that — Jin would never tolerate it, and as a result, we feel comfortable and, for want of a better word, protected.

We receive meticulous training and work not only on our research but on our writing and presentation skills, which are so vital to scientists, no matter what realm you choose to work in. Jin provides guidance there, as well, checking in with us periodically as we pick a career path, and she’s supportive, whether you decide to stay in academia or enter industry; that’s not always the case in some old-school labs, but Jin has an open, embracing mind and empathetic outlook.

Priya Katyal

Post-Doctoral Associate and Co-founder of Brooklyn BioScience

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Jin is one of the most inspiring women I have ever met. She works tirelessly to contribute to science and mentoring students. She encourages everyone, from undergraduates to post-docs, to believe in their potential and live up to it. She sets the bar exceptionally high and gives everyone every opportunity to meet those expectations.

I am equally impressed with her commitment to support and improve diversity in STEM and create an equitable environment that stimulates these initiatives. She has instilled an entrepreneurial spirit in me, and together we have been successful in getting many awards for our entrepreneurial venture. She is an amazing mentor and I am thankful and grateful to have learned such depth of knowledge from her.

Liming Yin

Research Scientist focusing on optimizing enzymes for decontaminating pesticides

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I arrived in Jin’s lab about seven years ago, and I am a stronger, more focused person thanks to her influence. She is demanding and encourages all of us to be rigorous in our research while at the same time being a very warm and nurturing person. She is a role model on so many levels, and she wants us to be equally well-rounded as scientists, team members, and human beings. Just as she’s mentored each of us in the lab, she expects us to go out and be role models to others. I feel equipped to do that now thanks to her.

Jennifer Haghpanah

Senior Scientist at L’Oreal, Alum, ‘12

Simply put, I was privileged to work under her guidance during my graduate school career.  I believe that she taught me not just how to be a good scientist, but also how to be a wonderful mentor for young scientific minds.