When scientists from The Jackson Laboratory sent genetically modified mice to the International Space Station last year to test the impact of microgravity on muscle mass, biology students at Weaver High School and Kinsella Magnet School in Hartford joined the research effort.

That’s because Sarah Wojiski, director of education and external programs at Jackson Lab in Farmington, helped get them involved.

Women Stem Awards, Sarah Wojiski, Carrie McCusker, Kayla Cloutier
STEM leaders: Jackson Laboratory's Sarah Wojiski, Sonalysts' Carrie McCusker, and Medtronic's Kayla Cloutier.

It’s one reason why Wojiski, who has a Ph.D. in genetics from Harvard, was named one of 12 recipients of the 2020 Women of Innovation awards.

Presented by the Connecticut Technology Council and the Connecticut Center for Advanced Technology, the awards recognize professional experience, innovation, creative thinking, problem-solving, and leadership.

Wojiski, who has taught biology and genetics for years, won in the Large Business Innovation and Leadership category.

Charlie Wray, Jackson’s vice president for education, describes Wojiski as “an integral, hard-working member of our team who also serves as an active mentor to the students and colleagues that she has met throughout her career.”

“She finds tremendous value in the importance of good mentorship and is happy to keep in touch with those she has counseled with over the years,” Wray said.

Problem-Solving

Carrie McCusker, technical lead at Waterford-based Sonalysts, won in the Small/Medium Business Innovation and Leadership category.

The award goes to a woman who has at least three years of managerial or technical experience in technology, science, or engineering, and who has managed a program, project, or business unit in an exemplary way in a small/medium company.

“I think the passion that I have for software engineering really comes from the fact that it gives me the opportunity to bring together a wide range of people with various skills and backgrounds in order to come up with an elegant solution to a problem,” McCusker said.

Kayla Cloutier, principal R&D engineer at North Haven medical device manufacturer Medtronic, shared the Inspiring STEM Equitability Award with Sonya Richmond, a Connecticut Invention Convention board member.

Cloutier, who is passionate about sharing her STEM experience to inspire future generations of engineers and scientists, has worked for Medtronic for almost nine years in various product development engineering roles, designing and testing instruments that are used in laparoscopic surgery.

In her current role, she leads pre-clinical studies evaluating the effectiveness of a hernia fixation implant while managing testing for an electro-mechanical delivery system. 

'Opportunity to Excel'

This is the 16th year for the awards, which honor and highlight women innovators, role models, and leaders in science and technology, including outstanding young women at the high school and collegiate levels pursuing technology professions.

“If Connecticut’s economy is to thrive and innovative companies are to take root and grow here, we will depend, in large measure, on ensuring that women in the STEM fields have every opportunity to excel,” said Giovanni Tomasi, president/chief technology officer of RSL Fiber Systems and CTC board chair.

“Women are still under-represented in the STEM fields, which is why it is so important to applaud their contributions, and redouble our collective efforts to open STEM to their full participation and leadership,” said CCAT president and CEO Ron Angelo.

"If innovative companies are to grow here, we will depend on ensuring that women in STEM fields have every opportunity to excel."

Connecticut Technology Council chair Giovanni Tomasi

Other winners:

  • Entrepreneurial Innovation and Leadership: Erika Smith, CEO, ReNetX Bio
  • Research Innovation and Leadership: Beiyan Zhou, associate professor of immunology, UConn Health Center
  • Community Innovation and Leadership: Aundrya Montgomery, research assistant, UConn
  • Secondary Academic Innovation and Leadership:  Susan Dougherty, STEM and special education teacher, Stamford High School, and Diane Pintavalle, science teacher, Glastonbury High School
  • Post-Secondary Academic Innovation and Leadership: Maria Chrysochoou, department head, civil and environmental engineering, UConn School of Engineering
  • Collegian Innovation and Leadership: Wanjiku (Wawa) Gatheru, undergraduate student, UConn
  • Youth Innovation and Leadership: Sophia Wang, Amity Regional High School