Women in STEM: A WiSE Perspective

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.