For the first time since being introduced by the UN in 2015, Sudbury celebrated the International Day of Women and Girls in Science on Feb. 11, with two interactive events at LU's Cliff Fielding Research, Innovation and Engineering building.
In addition to showcasing the academic achievements of the university and its diverse staff, the day highlighted the importance of mentors, both in the evolution of the industry and the gender bias present within it.
According to the UN, between 2014 and 2016, less than 30 per cent of all researchers in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields were women. A study conducted by UNESCO in 2017 found that, worldwide, just three per cent of female students were enrolled in natural science, mathematics or statistics, five per cent enrolled in engineering and manufacturing, and eight per cent enrolled in construction.
In an effort to change that Prof. Tammy Eger, LU's research chair in Occupational Health and Safety, and her organizing team hosted the events of Feb. 11 to inspire the scientists of tomorrow by introducing them to the female mentors of today.
The new STEM building of Laurentian University was divided into four sections, each highlighting a unique strength of the school and its faculty. On the upper level, the research hub facilitated learning through proactive discussion, while the forge encouraged the materialization of projects through button-making. Lastly, the lower level showcased the experimental side of the sciences through live demonstrations of equipment and active projects.
So what is a mentor? Is it someone that encourages you, challenges you? Someone that you can see yourself becoming? Historically, a protégé will look for a combination of these factors when selecting a mentor, but relating to a predecessor is not always a guarantee.
Identifying with the gender of a mentor may not be a ‘big deal’ for some, but for Laurentian University biology student Alexandria Gallon, there are just some things that become a little easier when you have a female role model.
“I haven’t been with [my supervisor] Jackie Litzgus for very long, but I can already tell how much of a difference this has made already and how much it’s going to make on my career and how I am going to be as a future scientist,” said Gallon.
Gallon’s love of science grew from a desire to conserve and protect the Earth since a young age, and a strong belief in the power of education. In her first year of her undergrad at the University of Regina, Gallon had the opportunity to speak with community members about her findings on the snakes of the region, a topic new to her at the time.
Originally a self-proclaimed ‘girly-girl’, Gallow had what she describes as a rude awakening to the world of field biology, working with snakes as her topic of study. This wasn’t enough to dissuade Gallows though, who took the assignment in stride, eager to communicate the ecosystem services provided by her topic of study.
“Talking with people it was very disheartening because a lot of them were like ‘yeah, we get it but we don’t like them; we’re scared of them’,” said Gallon. “That really sparked another passion in me … to gather knowledge and further my understanding so that I can help people understand that these guys are just living their lives and just do the best they can.”
Gallow’s younger sister, five years old at the time of her initial placement, acted as the perfect student for this young scientist to explore her passion for teaching. “If I can show that I’m doing this and I’m having fun and you can make a life out of it and still pursue that wonder and that awe that you had when you were five, that’s so important.”
As one of many young presenters of the day, Gallow represents a global movement towards improving gender equality within STEM fields. See if a career in the sciences is right for you by browsing the STEM programs offered at Laurentian University.