Women Leaders in Science the Focus of New Lecture Series

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U of G students in the lab, wearing goggles, with test tubes and piping around them

Bonnie Lasby, former undergraduate laboratory coordinator for the Department of Chemistry and current B.Sc. program counsellor, talks to students in B.Sc. program

Students and faculty at the University of Guelph will have access to some of the world’s brightest scientific women scholars and policy makers, thanks to a generous gift that will establish the Tremaine Visiting Speaker Fund for Women in Science.

The gift will allow U of G to bring women in scientific leadership roles to campus to speak and participate in research or outreach activities once per year for five years, rotated annually among the Departments of Chemistry, Mathematics and Statistics, and Physics, and the School of Computer Science.

“U of G in many ways is a very successful university for attracting women students, faculty and staff,” said Dr. Peter Tremaine, professor in the Department of Chemistry and NSERC/UNENE Industrial Research Chair in High-Temperature Aqueous Chemistry.

“But there’s still a long way to go in increasing the representation of women in STEM. Our success in this area makes the University an ideal host for innovative programs like this speaker series.”

The inaugural event, being planned by the Department of Chemistry, will take place in fall 2021 or winter 2022, depending on COVID-19 restrictions.

Peter and Karin Tremaine co-established the fund and said they were motivated by personal experiences with talented women who faced challenges when pursuing careers in scientific disciplines.

“Historically, men have been able to point to a teacher or mentor that really motivated them, someone who they saw themselves in,” said Karin. “I have an IT degree and there wasn’t a woman who filled that role for me in my undergraduate program because there were so few women in my discipline. These speakers will hopefully be able to provide that leadership for women in STEM programming.”

Visiting speakers are intended to bring experience relevant to women in STEM and could include women scientists pursuing cutting-edge research; researchers or professors who have pushed the boundaries for women in science; or experts in public policy that removes barriers for women pursuing higher education and careers in STEM.

“We are grateful for the establishment of a speaker fund dedicated to supporting our community to have more mentorship opportunities in STEM,” said Gerarda Darlington, interim dean of the College of Engineering and Physical Sciences (CEPS).

“Having a leading expert in science who has had such an impactful career will inspire our students to see that potential for themselves.”

Improving the representation and persistence of women is among strategic priorities for the computing, engineering, physical and mathematical sciences at U of G, added Darlington.

Official campus groups such as Women in Science and Engineering and Guelph Women in Computer Science seek to support women in STEM and work in the community on science outreach efforts for school-age girls.

Each department or school in CEPS will choose a speaker and plan activities for their week-long visit. Besides focused activities for specific disciplines and groups, the Tremaines envision at least one public event involving the entire campus for each speaker.

“We see the face-to-face and networking as so important, especially for women students and early-career faculty,” said Peter. “Whether the speaker is at the pinnacle of their field as a scientist or a national policy maker, the relationship for the University and long-term implications of having this person on campus can be tremendous.”

Ultimately, said Karin, the skill and expertise brought to campus by the speaker is intended to foster long-lasting innovation and inspire women in STEM careers or programs.