glass ceiling

Travels through Oklahoma

My recent Power in Place (PiP) travels through Oklahoma spanned from Valentine’s Day to Presidents’ Day (extremely fitting since PiP was conceived from my passion for political parity).  In 5 days with much driving in-between, I was able to photograph and interview 9 female politicians and 4 nominees.

I was moved by the overall support, and respect they all shared for one another, regardless of party affiliation.

Booking the various electeds, I sent invites to a diverse group of female politicians. I was aiming for a range of age, race, party, and geographic settings. Not only was my vision fully realized by the Oklahoma women I featured, but I was moved by the overall support, and respect they all shared for one another, regardless of party affiliation.  Often, the legislators would ask who signed onto the project and when I recalled the list, they would recount virtues rather than cast aspersions on character.  To me, this is a hallmark of what makes women in politics so necessary.  We are not weaker, or less scrupulous– –rather we are (on the whole) apt to appeal to civility over disparagement.  During this polarizing time, I see the potential of women in politics as a beacon of hope pointing to a more measured dialog at the governing table.

 Power in Place enjoys spotlighting “firsts”––women electeds achieving historical milestones ––like Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley, the first woman of color from Massachusetts to go to Washington.


Here are the PiP Firsts this month:


Cherokee Nation Councilwoman Mary Shaw

PHOTOGRAPHED by the stream that runs into the lake near her home in Broken Arrow, OK

FIRST shoot of 2019 and my first Cherokee Nation woman featured.

SHOOT HIGHTLIGHT was learning from Mary that she taught Chief Wilma Mankiller (the first woman elected to serve as Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation in 1985) how to use a cell phone.


Cherokee Nation Councilwoman Janees Taylor

PHOTOGRAPHED at the Saline Courthouse by the Spring House, Locust Grove, OK

FIRST participant to bring along 10 other women (now that’s devotion) to her shoot wearing the most brilliant traditional Native American dresses.

SHOOT HIGHTLIGHT was being surrounded by the swirl of colors from women of the Pocahontas Club and feeling the love and support the women share for each other.


Tulsa City Councilwoman Crista Patrick


PHOTOGRAPHED at Tulsa State University

FIRST whimsical portrait in a theater costume department, where a rainbow of clothing options hung above us & they doubled as a lively backdrop to match Crista’s personality.

SHOOT HIGHTLIGHT was when Crista and her nominee, Stasha, told each other why they appreciate the other during the interview. Their relationship is clearly built on trust, respect and mutual gratitude.  So beautiful to witness this amongst women of different generations.

State Representative Carol Bush

PHOTOGRAPHED at the cycling trail head of the Gathering Place in Tulsa, OK

Not my first shoot that incorporates bicycles into the office holder’s place of special meaning but my FIRST attempt to capture the spirit of will, dedication and strength of Rep Bush, who started an all-female cycling club, which has grown over the years to 200+ riders.


SHOOT HIGHTLIGHT was witnessing the friendship that Carol engenders.  Two cycling girlfriends showed up to lend a hand (and their bikes) on a damp, cold and dreary afternoon.  They were more than accommodating and happy to help, even though their fingers were frozen to the bone throughout the shoot. 

Norman, OK Mayor Lynne Miller

Photo: Steve Sisney

Photo: Steve Sisney

PHOTOGRAPHED at the Bizzell Memorial Library at Oklahoma University

FIRST shoot conducted entirely in whispers.  The Mayor chose the library’s Great Reading Room as her setting. It’s one of those traditional “old school” elegant study halls where any minor sound reverberates tenfold. So I had to be extra quiet directing Lynne while photographing her. 

SHOOT HIGHTLIGHT was the admiration I felt for Lynne for entering public service after retiring from teaching.  She is able to serve her community with wisdom and experience.


State Represent Ajay Pittman & (Mom) State Senator Anastasia Pittman

PHOTOGRAPHED at the Oklahoma State Capital Building

FIRST mother & daughter elected duo for Power in Place. What a treat!!! Often legacy politics is a father-to-son hand down, but these two courageous souls bucked the national trend. 


SHOOT HIGHTLIGHT was realizing that these two women are not only mother/daughter, but they are each other’s best friend, to the point where they would finish each other’s sentences.  What made me chuckle the most was how physically they were in sync. Without any prompting from me, they would cross arms at the same time.  In addition, when they first walked into the building, I mistook Anastasia for Ajay.

Oklahoma State Representative Nicole Miller

PHOTOGRAPHED at her home in Edmond, OK


Even though Rep Miller was the 2nd person on our Oklahoma roster with the last name “Miller,” she earned her individual distinction of being PiP’s FIRST female office holder to pull off a flawless mid-air split. She requested to be photographed with her son (who also inherited Nicole’s athletic prowess).  So I suggested they jump around on their backyard trampoline. 

The shoot was also, PiP’s sweatiest portrait session due to all the physical exertion.  I had Nicole and her son repeat many of their airborne poses, so I could get the framing just right.  Bar none, the SHOOT HIGHTLIGHT was beholding the joy that Nicole’s son brings to her. 


Oklahoma County Commissioner Carrie Blumert

PHOTOGRAPHED on the steps of Oklahoma County Courthouse

It wasn’t the first time I’ve shot in front of a courthouse, but it was the FIRST shoot on which an elected official brought along her sister to personify their shared passion for criminal justice reform. As children, Carrie and her sister experienced first-hand the whims of a system that punishes those with metal health and substances abuse issues. Luckily their family received the support they needed, but they’ve seen too many people fall through the cracks.

SHOOT HIGHTLIGHT was being in the presence of a newly elected woman public office holder, who is absolutely energized by the possibilities of her new role as a public servant.  Carrie’s positive disposition and dedication to the job makes one believe in the possibilities of government to change lives for the better through dedicated advocacy.


Oklahoma City Councilwoman Nikki Nice

PHOTOGRAPHED at her alma mater, Northeast Academy in Oklahoma City


Not only is Rep Nice genuinely nice, she is an ardent champion for her community.  Her ward has always been her home, and, as a young woman, her high school was the center of her world.  Nikki is the FIRST in her family to attend Northeast Academy, a school whose court-mandated integration in the 70s led to a racially diverse student body.  As her mom always suspected, Nikki flourished magnificently at Northeast, even though initially she didn’t want attend a magnet school.

SHOOT HIGHTLIGHT was getting to know a humble, genuinely honorable soul.  She does not put on any pretenses and her radiant smile makes one feel at ease.  I also enjoyed hearing about her days as a radio personality before she ran for office.


Izzy Barry interviewing Commissioner Carrie Blumert, CK Morris interviewing Representative Nicole Miller, Stasha Cole interviewing Councilwoman Crista Patrick and Emily King interviewing Representative Carol Bush

Izzy Barry interviewing Commissioner Carrie Blumert, CK Morris interviewing Representative Nicole Miller, Stasha Cole interviewing Councilwoman Crista Patrick and Emily King interviewing Representative Carol Bush

When I left Oklahoma, I couldn’t believe my good fortune.  Not only was I impressed by the women office holders, I was also inspired by the amazing young female nominees.  So a big shout-out to PiP’s Women on the Rise, who not only assisted me during the portrait shoots but who also posed insightful interview questions to their nominators.  It is these young female students that will help bridge us toward a more equitable society.  So THANK YOU-- Izzy Barry, CK Morris, Stasha Cole, and Emily King--you are the BEST!!!!


"Any female leader is inherently an innovator, paving the way for others to follow"

When I was eight years old, I decided I wanted to get a doctoral degree. I had just spent some time going through one of my favorite books at the time, Kiss My Math by Danica McKellar, when I noticed that by the author’s name was a suffix I had never seen before: “PhD”. I ran into my parents’ room and asked them what these three little letters meant, listening as my mom explained how they were reserved for very smart people who contributed a unique theory to their field of study.

Wanting to be like the amazing woman who wrote this book, I whipped out my rainbow notepad and sparkly pen and got to work.

After an hour of struggling through my fourth-grade-level arithmetic, the conclusion of my basic calculations showed that 1= 0. Thinking I had broken math and would surely get that coveted “PhD” for my efforts, I tucked the paper with all my mathematical scribbles onto my bookshelf for safekeeping.

Though I didn’t get that doctorate at age eight, I kept that same curiosity and determination through all of my studies. In my imagination, there was no goal too high, no ambition unachievable. Eventually, my interest in science and math led me to discover my love of astronomy. By the time I was in high school, I knew that to become a research professor in astronomy, I would need to understand physics. It wasn’t until my first day in a formal high school physics class, eight years after learning what a PhD was, that I started to doubt my abilities. As one of three female students out of more than 20 in my class, I had my first experience with the gender gap in STEM. Though I was slightly more intimidated by the journey to become an astronomer after that first course ended, I stuck with my original intentions as I graduated high school, went to college, and chose to major in physics.

The introductory STEM courses at most universities are often considered to be the “weed out” courses, designed to separate those truly interested in pursuing a subject from those who are not as serious. Research has demonstrated that this process affects women more than in does men; despite taking similar courses in their K-12 education, significantly fewer women than men graduate from almost every scientific area of study. My freshman year calculus and physics classes hit me hard, and I found myself wondering if I was cut out for STEM as I struggled to grasp the concepts in the most foundational classes our school offered.

Later that year, I became a part of the Women in Physics group on campus. As I began participating more in their events, I realized that those feelings of insecurity and self-doubt had also been felt by many of the female physicists I consider to be role models, including fellow students and professors. Finally, I had found my place as a physics major, both getting and giving support in this community of strong women, who just happened to have a love of science.

Last fall, I realized that my journey in STEM was pushing me in a new direction. As I began thinking about where I would apply for summer research or internships, I found myself searching for opportunities that would allow me to use my physics background indirectly. The idea of advocating for STEM from through public policy was not something I had considered for my own goals before but was something I immediately found interesting. Deciding that pursuing science policy had the potential to completely change my direction in college, I applied to an internship through the Office of International and Interagency Relations at NASA Headquarters for the next internship cycle available over the spring.

The challenge of being female and a leader in any field does not come from women being any less smart, talented, and capable than their male counterparts. Rather, the challenge comes from not seeing many people like you who have already undertaken the journey you are about to start.

Until I spent the last semester off from school to complete this internship in Washington, D.C., my experiences in physics came only through my classes and my research projects. Suddenly, I was involved in science on a governmental scale. My focus shifted from depth to breadth; instead of contributing to one project, I had an impact on many projects as I helped draft agreements with foreign partners and plan international seminars. I supported work in aeronautics, astrophysics, and everywhere in between, learning pieces about each program mission along the way. Immersed in my work at NASA, I realized that I don’t have to be in a lab to support my interests in science and to advocate for women in STEM. Work happening through the government to ensure the success of individual projects in STEM is just as essential as the work of scientists to push their fields forward.  

As I continue to study physics while branching out to explore science policy, I’ve realized that the challenge of being female and a leader in any field does not come from women being any less smart, talented, and capable than their male counterparts. Rather, the challenge comes from not seeing many people like you who have already undertaken the journey you are about to start. Any female leader is inherently an innovator, paving the way for others to follow and making it easier for others to create their own paths in the future. It is this idea that keeps pushing me forward. Although my future goals might change, I now can reassure my eight-year-old self, knowing that women can do anything, especially when we empower those around us along the way.

Katie is from Bettendorf, Iowa and is a sophomore Physics major at Yale University. With a combined interest in scientific research and communication, she intends to pursue a career working toward the advancement of science through policy development and public education. She is on the board of the Yale Women in Physics, and outside of STEM, she loves to plays clarinet in the marching band and train for half-marathons.