Kathryn Reda, '23

December 20, 2022

Respecting science as apolitical is key to healthy democracy, says Science Leadership Scholar

The cold rain could not dampen their enthusiasm. Seemingly oblivious to the weather on a recent afternoon, fifth graders eagerly vied for their turn to jump on launching pads that sent homemade rockets shooting skyward. This particular activity addressed kinetic and potential energy and was part of a weekly science program conceived and executed by Kathryn Reda, ’23.

The University of Richmond’s Bonner Center for Civic Engagement connected her to the East End Richmond school where she leads the program.

“The program is designed to show kids that school, and particularly science, can be fun and exciting,” Reda said. By engaging students with science at a young age, she said she hopes they will become scientifically literate adults, which ultimately benefits a democratic society.

Reda, a Science Leadership Scholar majoring in leadership studies and biochemistry and molecular biology, thinks a lot about how the scientific community interacts with the American public. In fact, it is the focus of her Jepson School of Leadership Studies honors thesis, “Political Polarization and Science in America.” Dr. Kristin Bezio serves as her faculty mentor.

“The scientific community is less trusted by the general public today than it was 10 years ago,” said the senior from Red Bank, New Jersey. “Political parties must respect science as apolitical and stop using it as a tool to meet their political agendas.”

For her honors thesis, Reda plans to conduct a survey to determine whether scientific knowledge or political ideology exert more influence on people’s beliefs about politically polarizing issues like climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic.

 

“My hypothesis is that people believe what politicians tell them to believe instead of forming their own opinions based on scientific facts."

Kathryn Reda, '23

“My hypothesis is that people believe what politicians tell them to believe instead of forming their own opinions based on scientific facts,” she said.

She commends scientists for doggedly pursuing the truth, with the goal of benefitting humanity—something she said she witnessed firsthand this past summer during her Jepson internship with pharmaceutical giant Bristol Myers Squibb. Working in a lab in the company’s biotherapeutic department, she cultivated cells to support a variety of immuno-therapy programs. 

Reda recounted how an employee who had been diagnosed with breast cancer captivated her and others on a Zoom call: “After joining a Bristol Myers Squibb immunotherapy clinical trial, the woman went into remission. Hearing how the Bristol Myers Squibb community supported her was really powerful. Sometimes when you’re working in the lab, you feel removed. Her story reminded us why we do the work we do.”

Using her two majors, the Richmond Scholar hopes she can help more people understand the important role of science in society. She said she has honed her research skills studying mitochondria, membrane-bound cell organelles, in Dr. Omar Quintero-Carmona’s lab. Earlier this month, she presented her research in Washington, D.C., at the annual meeting of the American Society of Cell Biology. “My leadership classes have taught me how to engage others in difficult, meaningful conversations on controversial topics,” she added.

“To have an impact, to do things that will make a difference, I will draw on both.”