Amid their studies, part-time jobs and family commitments, a growing and passionate group of women students at the University of Guelph are furthering their own potential and that of their peers – and even future generations – through outreach efforts to engage students and especially girls in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math).
Numbering in the hundreds, these dedicated students are showing a commitment among women in U of G STEM programs to further involve women in areas where they have historically been underrepresented.
Alyssia Sanchez is a biomedical engineering student in the School of Engineering in the College of Engineering and Physical Sciences (CEPS). Also the director of outreach for Guelph Women in Science and Engineering (WiSE), she said, “Growing up, my friends and family had always regarded STEM fields, particularly engineering, as a male-dominated field.
“I remember being discouraged numerous times to pursue engineering, even though I knew that it was what I wanted to do. Through my undergraduate experience, my love for engineering grew. I sought opportunities to provide other girls and women with the support they need to pursue STEM, because it was something that I lacked growing up.”
Even as student groups like WiSE Guelph design initiatives year-round to involve girls in hands-on STEM activities, they also run special programming each year for the International Day for Women and Girls in Science on Feb. 11.
International Day for Women and Girls in Science was established in 2015 by the United Nations in response to gender inequality and pay gaps in STEM fields. The goal of the international day is for women and girls to achieve full and equal access to and participation in science, and to further gender equality and empowerment of women and girls.
More than 30 of the 150+ members of WiSE Guelph’s members, including Sanchez, have volunteered to support a Girl Guides of Canada workshop on Feb. 12. The volunteers will gather virtually with more than 100 Girl Guides registrants ages 9-12 for a two-hour workshop exploring science concepts such as chemical reactions and rocket ships. Participants will also receive handmade STEM valentines.
Organizers aim to promote diversity and inclusivity by teaching interesting STEM concepts, said Sanchez.
“We try to keep in mind that for some of these children, it may be their first exposure to certain STEM subjects, so we aim to provide fun and memorable learning experiences. Throughout my time in WiSE, I’ve already seen great strides being made towards increasing awareness for diversity and inclusivity in STEM. A few years ago, I remember only having a handful of WiSE volunteers help at our outreach events, and this year we hit a new record. It’s been the greatest honour being able to interact with all our inspiring volunteers.”
While collaborations with Girl Guides have been ongoing, this year will feature the Besides ongoing collaborations with Girl Guides, this year will feature the initiative’s first corporate sponsorship: DENSO Corp., a Guelph-based manufacturing company, whose interests to see more women in STEM aligned with WiSE’s initiatives.
Outreach events key to introducing students to STEM
Meghana Munipalle, a biophysics master’s student in the Department of Physics (also in CEPS), joined the U of G chapter of Let’s Talk Science outreach group a year ago because of the significant role of science outreach during her elementary school years.
“I know first-hand how important it is to make science accessible and engaging for younger students and the impact it has on them. When I finished coursework and started working earnestly on my master’s research, I looked for ways to get involved with science outreach, which led me to Let’s Talk Science.”
The national organization works with universities, college and research institutions on programming and resources to help improve youth education and engagement in STEM. The U of G group will host a Women in STEM panel of students who will discuss their experiences, career aspirations and offer career advice for younger students on Feb. 11.
Munipalle, who is the equity, diversity, inclusivity and accessibility coordinator for the U of G chapter, fell in love with physics in high school.
“But I remember being reluctant to choose physics as my major because when I told people, the response I would often get was ‘but there aren’t many girls in physics, are there?’” she said. “Now as a master’s student in biophysics, I think it’s important we take every opportunity to showcase and uplift women in the field, especially kids still figuring out what they like to do.”
Munipalle says an important part of encouraging younger students to participate in STEM is to ensure they see role models like themselves.
“We have come a long way in terms of representation, but there are still a lot of sub-fields in STEM that are largely male-dominated and, speaking from experience, it can be really intimidating to find your footing as a woman entering research or a career for the first time.”
It’s also important for younger students to see “our sense of community,” she added – “that there are lots of us, uplifting each other, loving what we do and excited about where science will take us in the future.”
Women in STEM have a ‘tight-knit, supportive community’
Julia Hohenadel, a software engineering student in the School of Computer Science (also in CEPS), became involved with Guelph Women in Computer Science (GWiCS) because she was inspired by the group’s programming during her first year.
“I wanted to help inspire others,” said Hohenadel, now co-president. “With the male-dominated tech field, women can experience greater feelings of imposter syndrome and like they don’t belong in technology.”
On Feb. 19, GWiCS and the School of Computer Science will host Go CODE Girl. The annual event aims to equip girls in Grades 7-12 with confidence and resources to study technology, computing and/or engineering. GWiCS has designed activities to help participants learn more about computer science as well as the chance to engage with undergraduate students studying computing.
“I hope that the Go CODE Girl and our other events will show girls and non-binary kids that tech is a great field to learn more about and that, though there are fewer women and non-binary individuals in this field, we form a tight-knit, supportive community.”
- Girl Guides in STEM with Women in Science and Engineering
Feb. 12 at 10 a.m.
100 Girl Guides, along with 33 volunteers, will explore fun science concepts like chemical reactions and rocket ship science.
Before the event, SWAG/activity packages will be delivered by unit leaders to Guides. Patches will be sent to participants and volunteers after the event.
Feb. 11 at 10 a.m.
Panellists Erica Ramelli (fourth-year biology and geography student), Emily Trendos (PhD student in integrative biology), Destina Mattrasingh (PhD student in pathobiology), Joy Roasa (PhD student in food chemistry), and Daniah Al-Naseri (fifth-year computer engineering student) will discuss their journey into science, their current experiences in their fields, career aspirations and advice for younger students interested in pursuing a STEM career.
Feb 19. at 1 p.m.
This Go CODE Girl workshop introduces female and female-identifying students in Grades 7 to 10 to careers in technology, computing and software engineering.
Led by the Ontario Network of Women in Engineering, Go CODE Girl is hosted by participating universities from January to March.
Feb. 11 at 10 a.m. and Feb. 12 at 11 a.m.
Under the theme of “discussing the evolution of minority representation in STEMM and the work needed to close the gender pay gap,” this conference will host speakers, a workshop with Jack.org and a graduate student panel.
The speakers are biomedical sciences professor Dr. Melissa Perreault and physics professor Dr. Joanne O’Meara.