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Celebrating International Women’s Day at the USDA

Women's Day presentation
Dr. Chaskopoulou presenting live on March 8, 2022. (Screenshot provided by Alexandra Chaskopoulou)

On March 8, 2022, in recognition of International Women’s Day, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)’s Office of Partnerships and Public Engagement hosted a webinar in the spirit of “Breaking the Bias” to celebrate the role of international women in agriculture.

Opening remarks by Dr. Jewel Bronaugh, USDA Deputy Secretary, and Dr. Lisa Ramirez, Director - Office of Partnerships and Public Engagement, were followed by five inspiring presentations of women leaders across USDA and international stakeholders.

Alexandra Chaskopoulou, research scientist at the European Biological Control Laboratory (EBCL), talked about her role as an ARS researcher in mentoring the next generation of women scientists. Currently, women represent only a third of researchers globally. Even though representation is gradually increasing, women are still underrepresented in scientific research especially in senior and executive roles.

USDA-ARS not only acknowledges this gap, but actively and systematically reaches out to underrepresented populations and creates educational and professional opportunities to attract and empower the next generation of women researchers in the agricultural sector.

Chaskopoulou gave specific examples of how the supportive and collaborative environment that spans the agency has armed her with the tools and confidence to pursue her research and establish new programs, with a strong educational component aiming to attract young women to agricultural research. She has hosted more than 40 students in her lab, the majority of which were women.

Official webinar banner
Official banner/invitation for the webinar. (Graphic by the USDA Office of Partnerships and Public Engagement)

She also gave specific examples of exceptionally talented female students who worked at EBCL and represent the next generation of women leaders in agriculture, already breaking the bias. A notable example is Katerina Kargioti, a 2018 USDA-EBCL high school intern, from a small village in northern Greece with fewer than 100 residents. Kargioti said the following, when asked about her experience with USDA:

“Working at the USDA-ARS EBCL lab was a life-changing experience for me. I was introduced to a group of people with different scientific and cultural backgrounds, skills, and research interests, and I discovered what a researcher could be: a mentor, an advocate, a collaborator, a learner, and a leader. Armed with the guidance I received as a member of the group, I applied to Yale University, where I am currently studying-an opportunity that I would never have pursued if it wasn't for Dr. Chaskopoulou's welcoming me into her lab in June 2018.”

Contact: Alexandra Chaskopoulou

The European Biological Control Laboratory (EBCL) was established in 1991 near Montpellier, France. EBCL was created by the merger of the former European Parasite Laboratory, established in Paris in 1919, and the Biological Control of Weeds Laboratory in Rome. EBCL has a satellite laboratory in Thessaloniki, Greece. As the only USDA ARS-operated laboratory outside the United States, EBCL develops biological control technologies which can be used to suppress invading weeds and insect pests of Eurasian origin. EBCL researchers do this by searching for natural enemies (insects, mites, and pathogens) in their native habitat, determining their identity, testing their host specificity and potential impact in laboratory and field experiments, and shipping promising organisms to the U.S. for further testing as biological control agents. EBCL collaborates with scientists in many countries in Europe, Asia, and Africa to explore in regions of origin of the target weeds and insects.