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Career Stories: Celebrating Women Leaders in STEM

April 7, 2022 @ 5:30 pm 7:00 pm

Morehead Planetarium and Science Center is delighted to host Katie Mack, PhD, and STEM leaders Joan D. Barber, PhDChristina Hammock Koch, and Christy L. Shaffer, PhD, for a celebration of women in STEM as part of the 2022 North Carolina Science Festival.

Katie Mack, PhD, will deliver a keynote address describing her career story, then join guest panelists for a discussion of their professional journeys moderated by Crystal Harden, EdD.

Dr. Katie Mack

Katie Mack, PhD, is a theoretical astrophysicist who studies a range of questions in cosmology, the study of the universe from beginning to end. She currently holds the position of Assistant Professor of Physics at North Carolina State University, where she is also a member of the Leadership in Public Science Cluster. Starting in June 2022, she will be the Hawking Chair in Cosmology and Science Communication at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics. Throughout her career she has researched dark matter, the early universe, galaxy formation, black holes, cosmic strings, and the ultimate fate of the cosmos. Alongside her academic work, she is an active science communicator. You can find her on Twitter as @AstroKatie.


Joan D. Barber, PhD, retired as Vice Chancellor for Student Life from the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics in 2014, having served 28 years at the school. She holds a doctorate in zoology/renal physiology from Howard University and completed her postdoctoral training in the Department of Nephrology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she was the first Black postdoctoral fellow in the UNC School of Medicine. Her work contributed to the treatment of diseases of the kidney and kidney transplantation. In addition to research and teaching, she is an advocate for underrepresented minority students’ access to STEM-related fields and has built programs – both within and outside NCSSM – to enhance opportunities for students in STEM.

Christina Hammock Koch is a NASA astronaut and served as flight engineer on the International Space Station from March 2019 to February 2020, setting a record for the longest single spaceflight by a woman with a total of 328 days in space, during which she conducted six spacewalks, including the first three all-women spacewalks. She graduated from the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics and holds bachelor’s degrees in electrical engineering and physics and a master’s degree in electrical engineering from North Carolina State University. She serves on the NCSSM Board of Trustees.

Christy L. Shaffer, PhD, is a general partner at Hatteras Venture Partners with 30 years of experience in the life science industry. She joined Hatteras following a career as a clinical scientist, international project leader, Associate Director of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine at Burroughs Wellcome Co., and President/CEO of Inspire Pharmaceuticals. She holds a doctorate in pharmacology from the University of Tennessee Health Science Center and completed her postdoctoral training at the Chicago Medical School and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She has served on numerous nonprofit boards, including as chair of the NCSSM Foundation Board of Directors and Morehead Planetarium and Science Center Advisory Board.


Crystal Harden

Crystal Harden, EdD, supervises inclusion, equity, and diversity initiatives as well as community engagement, youth + family, and school + interpretative programming for Morehead Planetarium and Science Center. Her career in science education has spanned 30 years with work in state government administration, K-12 school teaching, and informal science center leadership. NC Governor Roy Cooper recently recognized her as a 2022 African American STEM Leader.

This program is part of UNC Universe Week, a week-long celebration of the science and scientists from UNC-Chapel Hill. To learn more about this week and find other events, click here.

Morehead Planetarium and Science Center

250 E Franklin St
Chapel Hill, North Carolina 27516 United States
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