Dallas Women’s Foundation Luncheon Features A STEM Pioneer—And A Surprise

Leave it to the Dallas Women’s Foundation to host a great annual luncheon—even when things don’t go exactly according to plan. That was the case on Friday, October 20, when the nonprofit presented its 32nd Annual Luncheon, titled “She Who Dares,” at the Hilton Anatole. The keynote speaker was Dr. Hope Jahren, a famous geobiologist whose research focuses on plants and who uses her platform to address the issue of gender bias in the STEM field.

As guests including Margaret Keliher, Mary Martha Pickens, Lyda Hill, and Thear Suzuki packed the Anatole ballroom, luncheon Co-Chairs A. Shonn Brown and Lisa Singleton welcomed them, declaring that “the ballroom is completely sold out!” They also announced that Lyda, who “loves supporting women in science,” had made a generous gift enabling Hope’s keynote talk to be live-streamed to 10,000 girls and young women at 20 different schools across Texas.

Following a video about three women in fields where females are under-represented—they were Jennifer Stimpson, an educator and scientist; Dr. Lucy Gildea, a chief science officer; and Dr. Amy Ho, an emergency physician—NexBank CEO John Holt revealed that the bank would match, dollar for dollar, all donations made during the luncheon, up to $100,000. The number to text was shown on the big screens, and by 11:51 the foundation had already raked in nearly $50,000.

Following an excellent lunch—butternut squash soup, roasted chicken breast, and two desserts—Foundation President and CEO Roslyn Dawson Thompson described the little packets of STEM Trading Cards (each one featured a woman blazing trails in STEM) that were being handed out, and noted that the tote board was rapidly approaching $72,000. Ros then introduced Hope, whom Ros said had written a memoir (“Lab Girl”) that “made me cry and made me laugh.”

With that, it was time for Hope’s much-anticipated keynote. Mixing humor about her Minnesota roots (“If you come to a place where they sell maple syrup and night crawlers—out of the same cooler—you’ve gone to Canada. Turn around and go back”) with a touching vulnerability (describing the lessons she learned from her late father), the unassuming scientist did not disappoint. She also talked about her study of, and love for, plants, which she said do all the things other living things do—except they can’t move.

Hope then described building a laboratory, with materials from Home Depot and Radio Shack, where she studies plants in plexiglass boxes, and how she’s used a $1,000 video camera to document how plants grow. In fact, she went on, she took a photograph of certain plants every 10 minutes for four days straight, aiming to document exactly how “alive” they really are. And, lucky us, we were about to see the result of her photographic efforts up on the giant screen.

Except, we really weren’t. It seems that, for whatever reason, Hope’s laptop screen had frozen, preventing the further projection of any images at all. “Let’s try the next slide,” she called out, to no avail. A technician rushed onstage and fiddled with a few things, but he had no luck, either. “I’m going to go forward and read from the book,” Hope said coolly, “and I’m sure that the powers-that-be will look at this” in the meantime.

Alas, that wasn’t to be, either. Proving the value of a good A/V person, if nothing else.

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