The Seeds of Belonging

In excitement for our upcoming 40th anniversary celebration of our Women In Natural Sciences (WINS) program next weekend, the Academy is proud to present the testimonials of three highly successful WINS alumna — Dominique Thomas, Ninette LaDeva Bennett and Maleka Diggs — who not only fondly remember their own WINS experiences, but also discuss the immeasurably important life and career opportunities they each gained from the science program, as well as talk about their role serving as leaders in the WINS Alumnae Committee. 

My name is Dominique Thomas, I am the Coordinator of Social Justice Programs at The Academy of Natural Sciences.  

I am immensely proud to not only be a WINS Alumna but to have the pleasure of providing mentorship to the incoming cohorts of young people participating in the program. WINS has continued to encourage my exploration of new places, embracing new people, cultures and love for the environment.   

I had the opportunity to participate in the Women In Natural Sciences program from 2008–2012. I can vividly recall the amazing experiences spent participating in lessons throughout the museum, from Bird Classroom to behind-the-scenes collection tours. WINS was truly a magical place for my teenage mind to freely explore science. Regardless of the career pathway a WINS embarks on, they can pursue it confidently with the academic and professional experiences provided through participation in the program.   

One significant aspect of the WINS program is the lifelong sisterhood. WINS Alumnae Committee allows the opportunity to reconnect alumna not only to the WINS program but to the WINS sisterhood. The goal of the committee is to provide an official network of WINS alumna, where WINS can connect across cohorts. The committee also encourages alumna to reengage with the WINS program through opportunities to meet current WINS in a workshop or field trip. It has been a pleasure to meet WINS sisters from earlier cohorts as they share their journey in WINS and how the program has left a positively impactful mark on their life.    

This upcoming WINS 40th anniversary will provide an opportunity to share the metaphoric journey of what it means to be a “WINS girl.” We love to say, “Once a WINS always a WINS.” There are moments in adulthood where I still experience my inner “WINS girl” and I hope that many more WINS will gain opportunities to explore the many wonders of the world, too.   

My name is Ninette LaDeva Bennett, nee Cooper. I own and operate a company that provides operations and project management to small businesses and nonprofits. I do this work because I am gifted to serve, and I enjoy meeting people where they are and helping them get to where they want to be.  

I don’t think there is enough space or time to talk about my experience with WINS. I started WINS in 1989 and didn’t leave until 2001! We were WINS girls who never wanted to leave the program or the Academy. We were embraced by a program, an institution and people who didn’t limit our capacity to not just learn but ignite and fuel a desire to change the world around us, learning concepts that seemed beyond an inner-city girl.   

WINS is special because it looks for girls with potential, not limitations. It embraces girls for who they are and can be, not for what they don’t have.  And it places girls in the bosom of safety. First in a program, then in an institution and makes them realize they can conquer the world! 

My role has been the co-chair of the Planning Committe. It is at the very least, a huge honor. I have been able to not only plan a weekend of events and construct a plan for future engagement, but also I have been able to tell a story.  My story. One that is woven in the immense, unbreakable threads that have created the most beautiful tapestry. We have been a part of reengaging alumna, friends, mentors and families. It has been wonderful reconnecting.   

 40 years is a long time. This is such a huge deal because it shows everyone involved that an idea, a dream, a desire, can turn into something that exponentially changes lives. And to quote a film that I memorized at the Academy, “… and that deserves a little respect!” 

My name is Maleka Diggs (Gilbert) and I am a self-ascribed “Disruptor of Monoliths,” unschooling advocate, and B.I.T.E. (belonging, identity, trust, and equity)-centered organizational strategist through my company Eclectic Learning Network founded in 2016. I am also co-founder of the Philly Children’s Movement, a multi-racial and multi-generational collective of families talking, playing and raising up for racial justice! 

The impact WINS continues to have in my life cannot be fully put into words. For me, WINS was more than an academic enrichment program focused on honoring and increasing the visibility of women in science; it saved my life. As a quiet young girl who faced a significant amount of bullying in school with inadequate access to the needed academic and social-emotional support at home and in my community, WINS represented an opening to gain the necessary tools to thrive academically and socially.  

I vividly remember walking through the museum’s side entrance doors with excitement, curiosity and fluttering nervousness. Seeing a beautiful rainbow of primarily black and brown girls gathering in the meeting space planted a beautiful seed around the power and importance of centering identity, culture and belonging in our academic and community-building practices. 

Unlike my experiences in school, the WINS program and the museum provided the space for me to test, fall, get up, try again and repeat without fears of failure. If the WINS program represents enrichment, the museum became my school.  

Reflecting on these treasured memories, from the moment I was formally accepted into the WINS program, it became the foundation for where I am today, personally and professionally. As a parent of two daughters, carrying the experiences gained throughout the WINS program into my parenting practice supported me immensely. This is especially evident in our educational practice as unschoolers, and the importance of collaboration, centering youth voices.  

Those beautifully planted seeds during my WINS years have blossomed in ways I could have never imagined professionally. 

Wins 40th Anniversary Portraits by Kerrin Lyons; tulip photograph by Jeremy Bishop/Unsplash

One comment

  1. Congratulations! I love this so much, and wish I knew about this program when I was in school many moons ago. Thank you all for continuing this powerful legacy and program!

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