February 11: Women and Girls in STEM

Posted on Wednesday, February 10th, 2021

Volunteer leans over desk and shows younger school-aged girl science activity
A student volunteer provides a science demonstration to a young attendee at the 2019 Witchcraft and Wizardry outreach event, hosted by Let’s Talk Science at the University of Guelph.

Outreach initiatives at the University of Guelph increasing number of #WomeninSTEM.

Gender balance in science, technology, engineering, math and computer science (STEM) fields is crucial for innovation. Scientific research is more accurate when women are involved. Equitable and diverse research teams are also more likely to develop new ideas. Despite this need, a gender imbalance persists.

The College of Engineering and Physical Sciences (CEPS) is working to increase the representation and persistence of women in its programs. The College has also included this as a key priority in its strategic plan, supporting the University of Guelph’s strategic framework.

Women represent a slight majority of all first-year undergraduate students in Canada. However, in the physical and chemical sciences, women totalled 32.3 per cent; in mathematics and computer and information sciences, 27.6 per cent; and in engineering, just 18.7 per cent (Statistics Canada, 2019).

Thirty per cent of all U of G College of Engineering and Physical Sciences undergraduate and graduate students identify as women, and year-over-year, the number of women graduating from CEPS programs has increased by as much as 21 per cent. While higher than the Canadian average in these program disciplines, more work needs to be done to further increase the number of women entering STEM.

“When I was in my undergraduate studies, I was one of two girls in my graduating co-op chemistry cohort,” says Jean Hein, Outreach Manager for the College of Engineering and Physical Sciences. “To encourage more women in STEM, we need to focus not just on the academics—which are important—but also on the impact women can make for both themselves and society through STEM.”

Hein is supporting and implementing initiatives by working with groups across campus to spark a connection between elementary and secondary school girls and STEM careers.

“The true impact of our efforts is not just through the gender equity initiatives we develop as an institution, but when our student leaders share their experience with these younger girls,” adds Hein. “Just as our undergrads need role models to see themselves in their future career paths, so too do those considering STEM degrees. Connecting with others can help encourage more girls to choose these programs.”

Student leaders building connections

There are nearly a dozen large-scale campus events and several official U of G student groups dedicated to supporting women and girls in STEM, such as Guelph Women in Computer Science (GWiCS). Many other student groups, including student councils and student clubs, espouse values of equity, diversity and inclusion.

“When I started my degree, I would look around my lectures and see just a handful of women, but it's getting better,” says Mary Bergin, co-president of GWiCS and software engineering student. “I'm seeing more girls getting involved. I hope by having a club like GWiCS and running an event like Go Code Girl will help improve gender balance in our field.”

The GWiCS team is planning Go Code Girl 2021, a virtual event to engage girls in grades 7-10 from across Ontario with coding and software development. The workshops and discussion are led by current School of Computer Science students with faculty support.

“Having a sense of community is so meaningful as a young woman in STEM,” says Maddie Gabriel, co-president (GWiCS) and software engineering student. “Relatable role models are important, whether you're in grade school, college, or even starting your career.”

“The mentorship and outreach work GWiCS does through events like Go Code Girl encourages young girls to see STEM as an option and helps build their confidence at such a critical time in their development.”

There are still limited spots available for Go Code Girl, which takes place this Saturday, February 13 virtually. You can also learn more about CEPS’s outreach efforts.

The 2020 Go Code Girl organizers, all current or past members of GWiCS.

U of G Campus Groups and Initiatives Supporting Women in STEM:

Creative Encounters in Science P.A.G.E.S
Go Code Girl
Go Eng Girl
Guelph Women in Computer Science
HeForShe celebration in partnership with Gordon S. Lang School of Business and Economics, Gryphon Football, and CEPS
Let’s Talk Science – Women in STEM Panel
National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women
RISE: Conference for Women in Engineering and Technology
Women in Science and Engineering

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