There was no talk about things in the past Thursday at the Connecticut Science Center. The inaugural “Evening Honoring Women in Science,” sponsored by The Petit Family Foundation, was about looking forward. Dr. William A. Petit Jr. spoke of how science had always been a part of his life and that of his family.

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The science of medicine was a big part of Jennifer Hawke-Petit, Hayley and Michaela Pettit’s lives. Jennifer was a gifted pediatric nurse, Hayley had a goal to study biology at Dartmouth College and Michaela showed an affinity toward plants and nutrition.

It is through the memory of these three gifted young women that The Petit Family Foundation sought to acknowledge their accomplishments and recognize women who are working in the fields of science today.

The Women In Science event set out to honor two women in particular who have each excelled in their respective professions.

Annabella Villalobos, VP Neuroscience and Antibacterials Chemistry at Pfizer, and Jennifer Whiffen, Senior Biomedical Design Engineer for Covidien Surgical Devices were the two honorees chosen for the inaugural event.

Villalobos acts as a mentor to young scientists at Pfizer and also works to encourage both women and people of Hispanic descent to pursue higher education and careers in the sciences. Her work includes her sponsorship of the annual Career Women in Chemistry event, which is held with a goal of connecting students ranging in age from high school to postdoctoral with female chemists at Pfizer to serve as role models.

As an inventor listed on three patents with twelve patents pending, Whiffen has authored six articles for scientific publications. A 2011 Women of Innovation finalist for the Connecticut Technology Council, Whiffen is a leader within Covidien’s Women’s Leadership Initiative group, which creates development and networking opportunities for its members.

“We chose to honor these two outstanding scientific contributors to highlight our mission of supporting the education of young people, especially women in the sciences,” says Dr. William Petit. “There is a huge need nationally for more scientists, especially women. We are honoring these women to demonstrate our great respect for their contributions to science and to showcase their success as role models for young women throughout Connecticut and the region.”

The fundraising event invited attendees to a symposium format that featured Jeffrey Immelt, chairman and CEO of General Electric, as honorary chair and speaker, and John R. Rathgeber, President of the Connecticut Business & Industry Association (CBIA). The two engaged in a dialogue that covered the state’s education system and where it is lacking in math and science. They also discussed the condition of the economy and what might help it get back on track.

Immelt regarded the sluggish economy as a direct result of the events that played out from banking and financial industries.

“The need for growth through areas of research and development, are crucial in order to keep up with China and other developing countries whose engineer graduation rate is triple to that of the U.S.,” Immelt said. Politics were treaded upon lightly during the conversation between the two speakers. “A 4 trillion dollar deficit reduction is going to take over 10 years to accomplish,” Immelt said. “We all have to come together to make it possible, and I think a lot of people want to be led.”

Immelt is the chair of President Obama’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness.

On a question from the audience regarding how to achieve a work-home balance for professional women, Immelt said, “The days of punching in at 7 a.m. and out by 7 p.m. should be over. That kind of thinking is really a generational overture. Life isn’t tidy, and women today appreciate those kinds of employers that have choices. The workplace today really calls out for flexibility.”

A live auction conducted by Master of Ceremonies Denise D’Ascenzo of Channel 3 Eyewitness News garnered bids up to $1,000 on a custom made necklace comprised of over 55 cts of Swiss Blue Topaz designed by Cynthia Alexander. Additionally, a silent auction was held with proceeds benefiting the organization’s many philanthropic activities.

The Petit Family Foundation is a 501c3 organization and all contributions are tax deductible. The foundation honors the memories of Jennifer Hawke-Petit, Hayley Elizabeth Petit, and Michaela Rose Petit by continuing the kindness, idealism, and activism that defined their lives. The foundation’s funds are dedicated to fostering the education of young people (especially women in the sciences),  improving the lives of those affected by chronic illnesses, and supporting efforts to protect and help those affected by violence.