Yesim Darici did not pursue a career in advocacy. She is a scientist – a theoretical and experimental physicist with expertise in transition metals and clean coal technology. Yet, Darici is a trailblazer for women in science. Today, she is also FIU’s leading advocate for women and gender issues as the director of the Center for Women’s and Gender Studies.
This month, Darici will receive the In the Company of Women Science & Technology Award for her instrumental role in promoting diversity and new opportunities for women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). Organized by Miami-Dade Parks’ Women’s Park, In the Company of Women recognizes the accomplishments of women throughout the county and is timed to coincide with the national Women’s History Month.
Champion for diversity
For Darici, her advocacy comes naturally. Often, she doesn’t even notice that what she is doing is the textbook definition of advocacy. Take the National Society of Hispanic Physicists for example. For six years, Darici served as the education officer for an organization dedicated to advancing and celebrating Hispanic-American physicists. Yet, she is Turkish.
“Well I’m not Hispanic, but my school is,” Darici says without hesitation.
She also served on the American Physical Society’s committee on minorities to advance initiatives that attract more women and under-represented minorities to careers in physics. She worked with two federally funded programs – SwitchOn and Upward Bound — to engage local high school kids from economically underserved areas in both science and college life. She also coordinated physics workshops for high school teachers. Throughout her 30-year career at FIU, Darici has championed STEM initiatives for women and minorities at the university, including two National Science Foundation-funded projects to increase diversity among its faculty.
As she talks about her accomplishments today, Darici sometimes takes a pause as if it’s occurring to her for the first time that she has spent a lifetime as an advocate. In her youth, Darici existed in a world without discrimination — not because discrimination was absent, but because she was oblivious to it.
Pioneer for equality
Growing up in Turkey, her mother pushed her to get an education. “A woman should be able to stand on her own two feet,” she was told. So she enrolled at the Middle East Technical University in the mid-1970s to pursue a physics degree. In Turkey, most physicists are teachers and as a result, most physicists are women. But Darici wanted to experiment. She wanted to push the limits of science. So, she set her sights on a Ph.D. in the United States — a move that surprised many including her mother.
At the University of Missouri-Columbia in the early 1980s, Darici had no idea she would be an anomaly. Her professors were all men. Most of her classmates were men. Few were foreign. She didn’t really notice. She was self-aware. She was confident.
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