Meet Our WINS Alumnae

For 38 years, the Academy’s Women In Natural Sciences program has been providing young women from Philadelphia public and charter schools with hands-on science workshops, career and college exploration and positive youth development. 

On Thursday, March 11, WINS will hold the eleventh annual Life After WINS Alumnae Panel and welcome three amazing program alumnae to speak with our community and current WINS students. Panelists will share meaningful experiences from the program and the impact it has had on their lives.

Meet the panelists below and read further on to learn more about Dominique Thomas, a WINS alumna who has come full circle and now works with WINS as the Academy’s coordinator of social justice programs.

Maisha Leek, WINS Alumnae 1996–1999

Maisha Leek is a venture capitalist with expertise in operations, business development and fundraising. She attended George Washington Carver High School for Engineering and Science, received a bachelor’s degree in communications from Trinity Washington University and a master’s in government administration from the University of Pennsylvania. Currently, she coaches and mentors founders in the New York start-up community. Maisha leads a consulting team that supports Fortune 100 innovation teams in the development and launch of microbrands that support the direction or prevent the disruption of their market position.

Before working with start-ups, Maisha had a career in politics and policy. As chief of staff to a senior member of Congress, she led efforts addressing issues of inequality in education, criminal justice reform and poverty through partnerships and policy.

Maisha serves on the boards of vote.org, the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation and Service Year Alliance. She is a trustee of her alma mater, Trinity Washington University.

Kesha Medina, WINS Alumna 2010–2014

Kesha Medina is a curriculum developer for the Free Library of Philadelphia’s Literacy Enrichment Afterschool Program, an urban forestry tree specialist and data analyst for the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, and a community voice member with the Parks and Recreations Urban Forest Strategic Plan. She graduated from Marianna Bracetti Charter School in 2014 and received her bachelor’s degree in Sustainable Food Systems from Sterling College in Vermont, a private agricultural college.

While pursuing her degree, Kesha became deeply involved in social and environmental justice efforts. She founded an organization called StandUp for Social Justice, hosted workshops and speakers, started committees and councils, and worked with the dean of academics to make the curriculum more inclusive and trauma-informed. Kesha also worked closely with the Indigenous Abenaki community to learn land-care practices, animal care, ceremony for plantings, harvests and food preparation.

After returning to Philadelphia, Kesha continued her work to aid the Black, Indigenous and people of color community through joining Historic Fairhill as a garden manager, planning programs at Life Do Grow Farm and becoming involved with Soil Generation and Black Dirt Collective.

Dominique Thomas, WINS Alumnae 2008–2012

Dominique is coordinator of WINS and a 2012 alumna of the program. She attended Paul Robeson High School for Human Services and earned a bachelor’s degree from Temple University. WINS helped Dominique secure internships and employment with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Pocono Environmental Education Center and at the Academy of Natural Sciences.

After graduating from WINS, Dominique went on to further develop her leadership skills at Temple University, seeking a degree in psychology with a minor in public health. Dominique joined the Service Immersion Program and participated in a study-abroad service trip to Costa Rica, where she volunteered with local community groups. She also served as a student leader for a Service Immersion Program in El Paso, participated in the Temple University Diamond Student Leadership program, acted as a program facilitator at the local Girls Inc., and mentored young people through Next Steps AmeriCorp.

After graduation, Dominique spent a year in China as an education and cultural ambassador in the Ameson Year in China program. Dominique continues to act as a youth advocate in local community organizations, including the Children’s Crisis Treatment Center and Covenant House Philadelphia. She uses trauma-informed practices to positively impact young people through positive decision-making that will impact their future.

We asked Dominique about her experience as a WINS student and why she returned to the program.

Can you tell us about your WINS experience?

WINS had such an influential and positive impact on my life. I allocate a lot of my achievements in life to those years and all of the experiences I had. I was able to do a tremendous amount of internships, volunteering and work. I had my first job at the Academy as a butterflies explainer and in those things definitely shaped who I am today. I also had the opportunity to complete a USDA internship with a chemical engineer; I had the opportunity to do Women on the Water, known as W.O.W.; and I also did several camp counselor internships at the Pocono Environmental Education Center. As a senior, I was the WINS assistant for the program.

Dominique Thomas assists with a lesson as the WINS 1 coordinator in her senior year of high school.

What brought you back to the Academy to join the team as the Social Justice Programs Coordinator?

Mentorship has played a significant role in my life and has been my guiding light. I knew I wanted to be that individual to connect with young people, and I wanted to be that guiding light for others. That’s what brought me back to WINS. Although I never really left the program.

After graduating, I continued working at the Academy in the Education Department. Although I was seeking a degree in psychology, I still wanted to stay connected to the natural sciences, so that was my way of staying connected to one of my first loves. I also worked for WINS as a camp counselor during the summer, and I continued being a WINS chaperone and helping with college tours. So even as an alumna I stayed connected.

What inspires you in your role as coordinator of the Academy’s social justice programs?

Social justice is something that’s dear to me. In college I would do servant leadership opportunities for my alternative spring breaks. I wanted to learn firsthand what a community is going through and what we could do to make changes for the community.

When I talk about social justice, it’s something that has impacted me personally. I come from a single-parent home and a community where a lot of the resources were slim-to-none. They’re still working throughout the School District of Philadelphia on having opportunities to connect children to science, but it’s limited. For instance, my science teacher saw that I really loved science, but there weren’t opportunities for firsthand insight. You learned from books. Then WINS came along and connected the dots to what I was learning in my books. I could actually go on trips, and here I am in the middle of a wetland to learn about wetlands. It gives that perspective of what we’re learning in school, and it gives you that firsthand experience. On top of that, you’re sharing it with all your friends that you build these bonds with.

Join us at 4 p.m. Thursday, March 11 to celebrate Women In Natural Sciences at the free Zoom event Life After WINS Alumnae Panel. Now in its eleventh year, Life After WINS highlights and celebrates current WINS students and the successes of program alumnae. Panelists will share meaningful experiences from the program and the impact it has had on their lives.

Learn more and register at ansp.org/WINS. You’re also invited to join us for A Shaker of Science: Once a WINS, Always a WINS to hear more from Dominique and her colleague Betty Louis, also a WINS alumna.

By Caitlin O’Brien, Director of Major Gifts, and Katie Marquardt, Manager of Membership and Appeals

Read more about our WINS alumnae here.

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