Researchers at MUSC work alongside College of Charleston to encourage, mentor women in biomedical fields

Two girls conduct a science experiment in school


With programs like ARROW, CREW and #StemLikeAGirl, women in STEM help those climbing the ranks behind them

by Celia Spell

With the recent anniversary of the MUSC-College of Charleston collaboration known as CREW, or Coaching and Resources for Entrepreneurial Women, the program celebrates one year of mentoring women in biomedical careers at MUSC and beyond.

CREW is a free program that targets late-stage postdoctoral researchers and early-stage faculty with entrepreneurial interests. The program originally began over a decade ago when Carol Feghali-Bostwick, Ph.D., an associate professor at MUSC and scleroderma researcher with a passion for mentoring, and Jesse Goodwin, Ph.D., the chief innovation officer at MUSC, joined forces to host a symposium to support women, innovation and entrepreneurship.

While combing through MUSC’s tech transfer database and tabulating the number of women listed as inventors or who had their names on patents or were part of startup companies, Feghali-Bostwick and Goodwin realized just how few female inventors there were. And then used those numbers to craft the symposium. While women and men have continued to apply and graduate from medical school at similar rates, only 25% of women hold the position of full professor according to the Association of American Medical Colleges. But statistics from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office show that less than 13% of inventors are women.

And as one of only three institutions nationally at the time to collect this type of data internally and use it, MUSC had a wealth of information at their disposal.

Goodwin was surprised to learn that women were more likely to participate in innovation as a junior faculty member and were not likely to participate at all when in more senior positions. They started looking into why that might be the case.

“One of the best indications of whether or not someone would try their hand at innovation and try it repeatedly – because innovation is hard – was having a mentorship framework available to them,” Goodwin said. “It’s hard to do something if there is no one who looks like you that you can turn to and talk to.” That’s when they sat down to draft their first proposal for what eventually became the CREW program.

Feghali-Bostwick had a great mentor in graduate school but found that mentors like her were harder to come by once she started her career. At the time she felt stuck and saw an opportunity to help those early in their careers in the ways she wishes she’d experienced. “These programs are my way of making sure that others don’t go through the same thing I did,” she said.

In addition to CREW, Feghali-Bostwick is the director for the program ARROW, or Advancement, Recruitment and Retention of Women, which started at MUSC in 2014 and continues to help with the broken pipeline of women in leadership. She also runs #STEMlikeagirl, which encourages an interest in science in children through outreach programs with experiments designed to show them science can be fun.

CREW found a new opportunity with the College of Charleston last year. Angela Passarelli, Ph.D, is an associate professor of management at the College of Charleston and handles the professional development of women within the year-long program. She says CREW consists of three components: entrepreneurship education, entrepreneurial mentoring, and executive coaching.

physicians involved in the women in stem programs walk together
Women like Angela Passarelli, Ph.D. (left), Carol Feghali-Bostwick, Ph.D. (second from left), and Jesse Goodwin, Ph.D. (second from right), all work together to provide more opportunities for women in STEM in South Carolina.

Participants complete an entrepreneurship certificate course offered by the MUSC College of Graduate Studies according to Passarelli. The course offers lectures on the basics of entrepreneurship, including conceptus such as intellectual property law, building and financing a company, and regulatory considerations for biomedical startups. The course also requires participants to put learnings into practice by pitching a business idea – based on a real or hypothetical innovation – to a panel of investors.

Mentors can be men or women in clinical and research careers who have also been successful in entreneurship, and they work in small groups with participants to extend the lessons learned in the course. And while the mentors are there to offer guidance, support and accountability to the entrepreneurial efforts of the participants, Passarelli points out that the program accepts female participants at all stages of their professional development. Participants can ask mentors questions about a patent or an idea for a business, but they can also discuss issues with leading a lab or even seek advice in their day-to-day life.

Those without the goal of running a business can still gain a lot from the coaching, for instance. Executive coaching consists of one individual session and one group session per month to help participants develop entrepreneurial leadership skills. Participants work with their professional coach to articulate a personal-professional vision, interpret feedback and set and pursue goals that advance their careers. Designed around intentional change theory, the coaching program aims to help women holistically integrate all the various roles they play within their lives and lead purposefully.

Passarelli says coaching is where the CREW program becomes the most personalized.

“MUSC is really leading the field in terms of monitoring gender participation in tech transfer,” Passarelli said. “The data is so clear that women start the tech transfer process at proportionally lower rates than men and drop out at proportionally higher rates than men. We don’t necessarily understand all the reasons for that, but certainly some are lack of mentorship, lack of input and access to information and lack of training. That’s what this program aims to fix.”

CREW is in its second year and currently accepting applications on a rolling basis.

Feghali-Bostwick sees the success of people coming up behind her as a legacy to strive for, and she takes great pride in hearing her programs have helped others. “It’s so gratifying to hear someone’s grant received funding, and to have them say they couldn’t do it without our programs is the greatest thing,” she said.

“We are here to lift each other up.”