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CMU Assistant Professor of Biology Johanna Varner, PhD, is honored at the Smithsonian with a life-size statue

Women’s History Month has been extra special this year for If/Then Ambassador and CMU Assistant Professor of Biology Johanna Varner, PhD, who is part of the world’s largest-ever collection of statues of women to exist in one place.  

Standing life-size at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington D.C. are 120 statues of women who are moving their respective fields in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) forward. Varner is part of the #IfThenSheCan - The Exhibit, created by Lyda Hill Philanthropies to advance women in STEM by inspiring and empowering middle school girls.  

“It’s absolutely incredible to be a part something like this and to see every kind of woman represented is truly remarkable,” said CMU Assistant Professor of Biology Johanna Varner, PhD. “I was able to go to Washington D.C with my parents and see all the orange statues together and it was very surreal.”  


Varner, whose 3D-printed statue now sits at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, studies mountain mammals called pikas, a rabbit relative that lives in alpine rockslides. Because of their sensitivity to heat stress and limited dispersal abilities, pikas may be excellent indicators of alpine ecosystem health in response to climate change. 

“These striking 3D-printed figures of remarkable women in STEM careers help us celebrate the incredible impact women continue to make on vital scientific endeavors,” said Lonnie Bunch, Secretary of the Smithsonian. “This exhibition highlights how a more diverse, more inclusive workforce will strengthen our shared future.” 

In 2019, Varner became an IF/THEN Ambassador, an initiative sponsored by Lyda Hill Philanthropies. The initiative works to “advance women in STEM by empowering current innovators and inspiring the next generation of pioneers.” The program assembled successful women in STEM to inspire middle school-age girls. Varner serves as a role model for young women in science by providing hands-on training and field experience. Recently she developed a new pathway for Girl Scouts to receive their Think Like a Citizen Scientist Journey award badge through a free online module. 

“If young girls get to know women in science as real people, then they may be more likely to see themselves as scientists,” said Varner.  

Varner is one of seven women represented from Colorado. The statues were first unveiled in Dallas, Texas, in May 2021. Washington, D.C. is the exhibition’s second stop.  


Photos courtesy of the IF/THEN® Collection


Written by Kelsey Coleman