Being a woman in the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields has always been a challenge. Queen's University's Women in Science and Engineering (WiSE), a non-profit organization run by Queen’s students, is seeking to change this. They actively engage the Kingston community through their network of young women working toward STEM careers, and promote the idea of pursuing studies in these fields to elementary and high school girls. WiSE strives towards this goal by running outreach programs in the community, such as their popular “EngSci Day.”
Indigo Girls Kingston’s head of operations, Sarah Nersesian, sat down with Julia Vidotto, Deanna Amodeo and Beatrice Kaiser, of the WiSE executive team, to learn more about the visionary, student-run organization. All three women hope to provide a resource for young girls to encourage them to follow and explore education paths in STEM fields early on in grade school.
The team stressed the importance of having groups like WiSE in the community. Julia, the organization’s President, put great emphasis on a famous quote by children’s rights activist Marian Wright Edelman, ‘“You can’t be what you can’t see,”’ she said, stating that in order for the number of women in STEM to increase, young girls and even women pursuing post-secondary education in those sectors needed to have greater exposure to strong female role-models currently working in their fields. This would foster feelings of confidence and motivation in girls and young women, by providing them a means of seeing themselves as chemical engineers, research scientists, or software developers.
WiSE runs a variety of successful events to attract young women to STEM fields. One of their most popular events is EngSci Day. Elementary school girls are introduced to science and engineering through a wide range of activities from cheek swabs to see DNA, to excavation activities that explore mining. These activities help introduce girls to the scientific method and branches of STEM they may have not even heard of. The program has been growing in popularity; on February 12th, WiSE welcomed 45 young girls to EngSci Day, and they expect this number to keep growing. Increasing numbers are not the only testament to their success, many girls have been returning from previous years, and parents have contacted Beatrice, the Vice-President of Outreach, to express appreciation for their daughters’ positive experience. Regardless of the program’s success, WiSE is still looking to expand it to include introductions to other STEM fields, for instance the inclusion of computer science through a programming workshop. WiSE is also trying to grant girls of different socio-economic backgrounds access to all of their programs. Through her position at WiSE, Beatrice is trying to make sure that financial situation is not an issue for girls who are interested in participating. She mentioned studies that have been conducted showing that “children still associate brilliance with boys,” making it more important than ever to promote the idea of women in STEM fields as a norm.
In addition to providing young girls with resources, WiSE provides a support system to women at Queen’s University currently enrolled in STEM programs. It gives them a way to interact with like-minded women who are just as driven as themselves. Julia, Deanna and Beatrice underlined the difference it made in the lives of WiSE’s members to have a supportive group of women around them going through the same challenges in male-dominated fields. They explained that although a greater number of women are choosing to follow Science and Engineering programs, there is still an underlying stigma working against women in STEM careers.
One of the biggest issues, highlighted by Julia, was that despite the higher numbers of women pursuing STEM education and the increased number of women in STEM occupations, many of them are “passed-over for higher opportunities,” in contrast to their male-counterparts. This fact, she stated, can be very “off-putting,” to women who see more financial security and opportunity in other fields. WiSE tries to surmount this challenge by giving women a head-start, through providing them with a unique chance to work together in pursuing their goal of a STEM career. The students help motivate one another, as well as run conferences where successful women in STEM careers come to speak to them and give them a positive learning environment to form connections with women who have overcome the challenges they currently face.
Organizations like WiSE provide girls and young women with an encouraging environment to pursue and explore potential careers in STEM, in addition to creating a liaison between the Queen’s University STEM programs and women in Kingston. These are the groups that will help to eliminate the false stereotypes about women in science and promote healthy images of self-confidence, intelligence, and perseverance to girls in the community. Their invaluable work will boost our future software programmers, scientists, mathematicians and engineers; and show the world what it really means to be a woman.
Julia is the current President of Queen's WiSE for the 2016-17 school year. She is in her fourth and final year of mechanical engineering at Queen's, and is excited to explore the vast opportunities within her field. While her time as President is coming to an end, Julia is forever grateful for the empowering leadership and decision-making skills that the position has given her, along with the amazing group of 100+ young women that she has gotten to work alongside.
Deanna is in her fourth year of Geological Engineering at Queen’s University and upon graduating, aspires to work in environmental consulting. She is so happy to have the experience of being Vice President of WiSE Queen’s Chapter for the 2016-2017 school year. This is her second year with WiSE where previously she was the coordinator for the High School Outreach program. When she isn’t thinking about saving the world one environmental clean-up at a time, she is dreaming about singing on broadway while expressing her great love for musical theatre and performing. She is so happy to have the WiSE community as a group of amazing friends and support as she finishes her undergrad and transitions into life after graduation. Deanna definitely hopes to be a part of a WiSE community forever!
Beatrice Kaiser is a third year Biochemistry student at Queen's University. She has been involved with WiSE Outreach programs for the past 3 years, and is currently involved as one of WiSE's two Vice Presidents of Outreach. Beatrice is also excited to announce that she is the incoming President of Queen's WiSE for the 2017-18 school year.