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Dr. Rhoda B. Leron: Blooming Beyond Barriers

Article by: Crismhil S. Anselmo, Alexandra Isabelle G. Delavin, and Sairine M. Salonga

Graphics by: Albert Dylan B. David

In the field of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM), women have been hardly introduced and credited for their work and interest during the past centuries. Compared to men, they have been expected to set aside their careers and academic pursuits. Because of this, women are either compelled to fight for their places in the industry or give up on their aspirations.

Breaking the barriers, The New Builder concludes this year’s celebration of International Women’s Month by featuring an extraordinary woman who inspires many individuals to bloom in their chosen field of expertise — Dr. Rhoda B. Leron.

Blooming with excellence

Dr. Leron, a professor from the University’s School of Chemical, Biological, and Materials Engineering and Sciences, is determined to pursue her aspirations. Back in 2014, she was granted the Outstanding Young Scientist Award by the National Academy of Science and Technology for her significant contributions to science and technology. This time around, in the recent release of the Alper-Doger (AD) Top 100 Scientists of the Philippines, she placed 62nd in the country’s list and was recognized as the highest-ranking scientist at MU.

Being on the list of the country’s top scientists was not something that Dr. Leron had expected. When she was told of her achievement, she was nothing short of ecstatic. According to the renowned scientist, it felt rewarding as the ranking was based on the h-index, a metric which evaluates authors’ scholarly outputs through a publication’s citations and references. "It's based on actual numbers. So, it means that it's a reflection of how your work is being utilized in the scientific community,” she imparted, highlighting that it was a validation that all her efforts and hard work were not futile, especially as she saw other researchers make use and learn from them.

The top scientist also expressed her gratitude to her colleagues and family who provided support and guidance throughout her journey. "… I have to give credit to a lot of people who help me also, who are working on the opportunity. Of course, I wasn't able to do everything that I did by myself,” she said.

Flowering with vigor

With her achievements in the field of engineering, it comes as a surprise that becoming an engineer was not Dr. Leron’s first career choice. The chemical engineer mentioned that she initially wanted to be a Doctor of Medicine, elaborating that certain constraints at the time pushed her to not pursue this dream. She jokingly added that some forces of nature probably sent her to MU right after high school where she came to pursue the undergraduate program in Chemical Engineering. Opportunities came one after another for her, allowing her to finish her master’s degree at MU, followed by her doctoral and postdoctoral studies at Chung Yuan Christian University in Taiwan.

As one of the most accomplished scientists in the Philippines, Dr. Leron imparted that her primary motivation – to always make the most out of what she has – is nothing out of the ordinary, especially in her line of work.

... when I decide to pursue [something], my motivation becomes ‘I have to make the best of what I have,’” the seasoned engineer said. “What keeps me going and motivates me is that I couldn't just let all the efforts go to waste. I just couldn't let everything to end as a failure,” she added.

Reaching full bloom, one would wonder what else is in store for Dr. Leron. When asked about her plans, the accomplished scientist said that she wanted to have her own laboratory in order to produce and manufacture materials. She hopes to develop something that would solve a societal need and be widely used by many. “... that’s my ultimate dream, that to see my work actually being used by someone else,” she remarked.

Blossoming without falter

It is indisputable that being a woman in a male-dominated STEM field does not come without its challenges. Dr. Leron disclosed that she was once not considered for a job because the employers had expected a male applicant, but this did not hinder her from excelling in the field.

While prejudice and stereotypes surrounded her, she chose to ignore those who undermined her abilities. Instead, Dr. Leron focused on her work and let success speak for her. “... my work proves my worth [...], so I don’t really have to say anything. I just make it sure that I do my job very well… better than what is expected of me,” she stated.

As a woman scientist who dealt with hints of doubts, she recalled her journey that honed her resilience and determination, which she aimed to instill in the young girls and her fellow women who dream of entering the science and engineering world.

Despite the hurdles that may come along the way, Dr. Leron emphasized that gender does not matter—what matters is stepping out of one’s comfort zone and improving for the better. “... you don’t really have to be better than other people, just a better version of yourself [...] you are a person – whether girl or a boy, male or female – you have your own abilities, capitalize on your abilities and be the best version of yourself,” she reiterated.

The Mapúa alumna also imparted a message for the Mapúan community, whom she deems is known for resilience and perseverance, encouraging its members not to lose this identity.

[In] every industry, there are Mapúans… and they are known to be very good, not only very good in their craft, not only very good in their work but also are very good team players, so always… do not trade good character for anything,” Dr. Leron remarked.

The inspirational journey and exemplary achievements of Dr. Leron show that women continue to redefine gender stereotypes even in male-dominated fields. Through determination and grit, women are capable of proving that there is no limit to what they can accomplish.

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