Female Scientists Are Real
BY ANDRA MCCARTNEY
The residential Science and Technology Careers Workshop held in Peterborough, Ontario, in May, 1990, was a collaborative venture coordinated by Trent University and Sir Sandford Fleming College. Developed as a three-day workshop in 1989, it was expanded to six days in 1990, and attracted 40 girls in grades 9 to 11 from areas in Ontario as far apart as Sioux Lookout and St. Thomas.
Over 200 young women were nominated by their science teachers to participate in the workshop. They were chosen not on the basis of outstanding academic achievement in high school science labs, nor were they necessarily consistent winners at science fairs. On the contrary, these young women had expressed a genuine desire to explore science either because of a lack of exposure in high school, or because of stereotyping imposed by family, friends or teachers. The opportunity to study science in a university or college setting provided the girls with a challenging environment to comfortably and creatively explore careers in science. The program emphasized small group interaction and cooperative peer learning. The girls worked daily in labs with female undergraduate students who served as role models and mentors.
The topics were geared to be challenging, stimulating, and representative of university and college level work. A completely hands-on approach was used to tackle such topics as nuclear radiation, stream ecology, forestry, toxicology, fluvial geomorphology (the geological study of rivers), robotics, archaeology, spectroscopy, cartography, and art conservation. Indeed, in evaluation, the students preferred active projects to those which were more theoretical. One student said the projects "helped to take the complexity from certain problems and show that much of science is within the grasp of a logical, curious mind."
One of the main emphases of the workshop was an attempt to break down the barriers caused by gender stereotyping. As I mentioned, many of the girls were chosen for the workshop because they indicated that they felt hindered by factors such as traditionally male-dominated careers, family beliefs, and peer pressure. A gender stereotyping panel discussion was held early in the workshop.
The presenters, who included a female electronics student from the college, posed questions to encourage students to think about gender and science such as: How many famous women scientists can you name? Why are there so few? What is the ratio of male science teachers to female science teachers at your school? Why? Are science and emotions compatible?