Scientist, researcher, athlete, Goldwater Scholar and student leader are just a few of the words that describe Elizabeth Stubbs, one of the many accomplished Blugolds who will graduate this spring.
A native of Wayzata, Minnesota, Liz came to UW-Eau Claire with a love for science but not a clear vision of where the sciences might take her.
But when a faculty member introduced the University Honors student to the field of materials science, she knew she’d found her passion and a path to her future.
“Materials science won me over because of the interdisciplinary nature of the field,” Liz says. “Materials science is on the interface of chemistry, physics and engineering, making it a very applied science. I love the hands-on learning in classes and the natural transfer of knowledge from the classroom to the ‘real’ world.”
Liz won a Goldwater Scholarship, an award given to only the top science, math and engineering students in the country.
“Being recognized among the top performing students from prestigious universities across the nation was incredible,” Liz says of the honor. “This really gave me confidence in my abilities as a scientist and in my potential to make a lasting impact in the scientific world.”
Liz is currently in the Ph.D. program in polymer science and engineering at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. Once she earns her doctorate, she hopes to pursue a career in research and development in industry or a government lab.
While she’s earned national honors for her academics, Liz also has gained kudos nationally as a student athlete.
She’s a three-time National Association of Collegiate Gymnastics Coaches Association/Women Scholastic All-American and two-time MVP gymnast, who also acquired many Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletics Conference honors.
She earned all-conference recognition in the floor exercise at the WIAC championship this year, and all-conference accolades in the event in 2013 and 2014. Liz claimed All-American first team recognition in the floor exercise at the 2014 National Collegiate Gymnastics Association championship.
She was also awarded WIAC’s prestigious Judy Kruckman Scholar-Athlete award for her academic and athletic accomplishments.
Liz says she’s thankful that UW-Eau Claire encourages its students to excel academically, but also to engage in meaningful experiences outside the classroom.
“Being a Blugold means pursuing several passions and being involved with the university and community,” Liz says. “I’ve tried my best to say yes to every opportunity that comes my way at UW-Eau Claire.”
As Liz prepares to graduate, she took some time to talk about her experiences as a woman pursuing a career in the STEM field, as well as the lessons she took from being an accomplished student researcher and collegiate gymnast.
How did your work as a student researcher enhance your college career?
I’ve been involved in undergraduate research since my sophomore year, under the mentorship of Dr. Elizabeth Glogowski, assistant professor of materials science.
My research focuses on studying the properties of a smart diblock copolymer, a molecule that will change is properties due to an external stimulus such as temperature. These smart polymers have the potential to be used in a variety of applications ranging from cosmetics to oil recovery.
Undergraduate research has been a crucial part of my college career. I’ve had the opportunity to apply the ideas learned in the classroom and gain technical lab skills.
More importantly, I’ve grown as a scientist and a person, which I owe to my mentor. She’s been a source of endless support and has been an amazing role model. She has challenged me to grow as a scientist and pushes me to exceed my potential. I’m thankful to have been a part of her research lab.
What advice would you have for girls who are considering science as a career path?
It’s so important that women pursue careers in science. Increasing the diversity in the scientific field will lead to developing solutions to global problems.
Many times women are discouraged from entering the science field due to stereotypes and years of being told that they won't make it in a difficult field. This is so wrong.
It’s very important for young women, whether in high school or college, to find a supportive community. For example, on the UWEC campus, the Women in STEM organization strives to encourage and give women the resources and confidence to pursue a career in the sciences.
Embrace your experiences as a woman because they are unique and bring a diverse perspective needed to further the scientific community.
What are some of the highlights of your collegiate athletic career?
During my collegiate gymnastics career, I’ve been blessed to find success on the competition floor.
As I reflect on my gymnastics career, several highlights stand out. These include qualifying as a team to nationals, traveling with the team, the thrill of competition and making friendships with students from other universities.
But among the awards and experiences, one of the most important highlights of my collegiate athletic career was last year, my junior year.
During the last conference meet of the season, I got injured. This took me out for the rest of the season. This was difficult for me because I thought that year was my year. I was consistently ranked among the top gymnasts on beam and floor all season. I thought I could win it all at nationals and make AD Dan and my team proud.
You can imagine how devastated I was when I got injured.
You might wonder why this is a highlight.
During this time, I was really able to grow in my relationship with God. While gymnastics has been a huge part of my life for the past 20 years, I learned that there is much more in life.
It’s easy as a collegiate athlete to feel pressured by coaches, teammates and athletic directors to win and represent the university. Falling short of these expectations is difficult on athletes.
That's why the time during my injury was so important. I was able to lift the pressures of constantly trying to exceed expectations and refocus my energies toward a greater cause.
What other experiences on campus had an impact on you?
The University Honors Program has given me several high-impact experiences.
One of these is a class taught by Dr. Nicole Schultz in which we explored the topics of class, gender and race.
During this class, I worked with a group on a project to debunk the myths of homelessness within the Eau Claire community.
As a part of the project, we volunteered at the Sojourner House, a local homeless shelter, and were able to interact and listen to the stories of the people there.
Then we were able to bring what we learned back to campus and influence and change the perceptions of the other students on campus.
What student organizations have provided you with opportunities?
I’ve been the president of the Materials Research Society, vice president of the Women in STEM organization and a leader in Athletes in Action.
All of these organizations have challenged me to lead in ways I wouldn't have imagined myself leading before coming to college.
Through MRS and Women in STEM, I’ve had the opportunity to become very involved in STEM outreach within Eau Claire and the surrounding community.
These outreach opportunities include doing demonstrations for young kids at the Eau Claire Children's Museum, Chi-Hi STEAM Night, New Richmond STEM Night and a variety of other events.
During these demonstrations, I’ve learned to effectively communicate advanced scientific ideas to children.
I’ve also discovered a passion for working with and inspiring young people, especially women, to pursue an interest in science as they grow older.
Top photo caption: Liz Stubbs has won multiple national honors for gymnastics during her Blugold career.