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UC Berkeley professor lectures at Mills for fourth Annual RWIS

Mills College students, faculty and staff all came together recently to listen to Dr. Inez Fung, professor of atmospheric science at the University of California,Berkeley, speak about how reforestation and plants themselves react to climate change.

At the fourth Annual Russell Women in Science (RWIS) lecture series, which was established in 2011 by Mills alumna Cristine Russell, Fung spoke at the Littlefield Concert Hall on the topic titled, “Plants, Water and Climate Change: Climatic Consequences of Afforestation” on Thursday, Apr. 16.    

Russell stated that she started the lecture series because there were not many female role models for her in the sciences during her time as a Mills student. 

“Setting aside a day for a woman in science is a good way to get the students and faculty involved,” Russell said.”They are great role models for women and men who are very sensitive to issues of diversity across the spectrum.”

Biology department Head Lisa Urry, Professor of environmental science Kristina Faul and Assistant Professor of biology Jennifer Smith chose Fung because she is a leader in the water and climate change field and is an important role model for the students and the community. 

“This lecture is supposed to be the highlight of the year,” Smith said. “It is a great opportunity to honor women in the sciences.”

Fung, who is the second female to be awarded a Ph.D in meteorology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a current member of the National Science Board, spoke about her academic and personal experiences as a female student of color.

Fung hopes that from her lecture, students will get the idea that science teaches important things such as  decision-making skills and to deal with the natural flow of things. 

“Nature is smarter than all of us put together,” Fung said.

Fung said research is not easy, and it requires having passion and an open mind. 

“Research is going into the dark and figuring out how to turn on the light,” Fung said. “It’s about what you like doing and having a broad base.”

Junior environmental science major Shannon Kreutzer asked how Fung handles the moral implications of research while realizing that her equipment contributes to the climate change problem she is trying to solve. 

Fung said that it is a never-ending conversation where she cannot give up certain things such as her washing machine and her computer, both energy and carbon intensive; however, she still tries to estimate what her carbon footprint is — a carbon footprint is the total set of carbon dioxide emissions released by an individual. 

“I have a sense of what my footprint is, and then I try to offset it in ways that are personal to me,” Fung said. “This is the dilemma of modern life.”

First-year pre-med post-baccalaureate student Ellison Stagaman sees Fung as a role model. 

“She totally changed the way she does research, how she approaches and thinks about it,” Stagaman said.