Loving the Lab: Mapes Scholarship recipient Empress Williams ’23

Posted on March 07, 2023

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Chemistry major and quintessential “WCer” Nancy Romefelt Mapes ’48 was ahead of her time. She chafed against barriers and relished the tough subjects she took in college. In her day, the sciences were male-dominated – a fact that did not deter Nancy from becoming a high school chemistry teacher and earning her master’s degree while working and raising five children. She dedicated her career to educating young women in science, and many of her students went on to major in the physical sciences in college.

The Nancy Romefelt Mapes Scholarship in Chemistry and Biochemistry was established by Nancy’s daughter, Nancy Mapes Small ’75, and son-in-law, Harold I. “Chip” Small ’75, to recognize her achievements as an educator and to encourage undergraduate women at UNCG to study chemistry and biochemistry.

Mapes Scholarship recipient Empress Williams ’23 is one of those young women. “I chose UNCG because I had heard great things about the research done here, and I wanted to be at a university where I could get in-depth, hands-on experience,” she recently told us. “Another reason was diversity. I knew I was entering a field where there aren’t a lot of people that look like me, so I wanted the opportunity to experience other perspectives.”

Empress knew at an early age she wanted to be a scientist. Toxicology piqued her interest, so she researched college majors that would prepare her for that field. Dr. Nadja Cech, Patricia A. Sullivan Distinguished Professor of Chemistry, taught her freshman chemistry and biochemistry seminar. Empress excelled in Cech’s class and ultimately joined Cech’s research lab.

“Dr. Cech is so energetic about chemistry and all that it has to offer,” she said. “I didn’t know much about her analytical chemistry or medicinal plant research, but I wanted the opportunity to learn more. I decided to join, and it was the best decision I could have made for my academic career.”

Empress has an immense level of gratitude to the Smalls for her scholarship. Her freshman and sophomore years, finances were a struggle, and she would often worry if she could make it another semester. But the Mapes Scholarship has given her a sense of security.

To the Smalls, Empress says, “Thank you! You’ve allowed me the opportunity to do more than I ever imagined. You’ve opened the door for women like me and let us know we also have a seat at the table!” 

By Chris Garton
Photography by Sean Norona

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