FST raises the public profile of STEM women
Women’s contributions to scientific fields have historically been underrepresented, but progress is being made in part thanks to the efforts of the Athabasca University community.
With the support of AU’s Deputy Provost Anne-Marie Scott, the Faculty of Science and Technology hosted a small Wikipedia edit-a-thon in honour of Ada Lovelace Day—an international celebration of the achievements of women in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), which was celebrated Oct. 13 this year.
“English Wikipedia is the fifth-most visited website on the planet, and yet only 18.5 per cent of the biographies there are of women,” Scott said. “Writing biographies of notable women in STEM on Ada Lovelace Day is a way to celebrate their achievements and address this gender gap.”
Ada Lovelace was an English mathematician and writer in the early 1800s, who worked on Charles Babbage’s proposed mechanical computer, the Analytical Engine. She is widely regarded as the first to recognize the full potential of computers and as one of the first computer programmers.
Scott explained she first got involved in editing Wikipedia during her time at the University of Edinburgh, when she and a group of colleagues worked to add biographies for each of the Edinburgh Seven. These seven women were the first group of women undergraduate students at any British university. They began studying medicine in 1869, and although a court ruled they could not graduate or qualify as doctors, they began a campaign that resulted in legislation allowing women to study medicine.
“English Wikipedia is the fifth-most visited website on the planet, and yet only 18.5 per cent of the biographies there are of women. Writing biographies of notable women in STEM on Ada Lovelace Day is a way to celebrate their achievements and address this gender gap.”– Anne-Marie Scott, Deputy Provost, Athabasca University
A lasting impact
Faculty members and learners alike participated in the AU edit-a-thon, creating new biographies. Some of these new entries on Wikipedia include: Mattie Rotenberg, Tamar Huggins, Martha Salcudean, Shirley Marie Stinson, Rose Johnstone, Elizabeth Whitton, and Maud Menten .
Dr. Shauna Reckseidler-Zenteno, Dean of FST, said she was excited about helping highlight stories of women in STEM field because of the impacts those stories have had on her own life.
“When I was young, I had a book about Marie Curie that inspired an interest in science, and that interest ultimately led me to a career in STEM,” she said. “There are thousands of stories of women in STEM fields that aren’t being told, and I hope that by shining a light on a few of them we can help inspire the next generation of women scientists.”
Dr. Jon Dron, Professor and former chair of the School of Computing and Information Systems, said he wanted to participate not just because of Lovelace’s impact on computer science, but also because her accomplishments aren’t limited to computer programming.
“One of the big reasons I reckon Ada should be recognized is that she went far beyond STEM—a reminder that all technologists and scientists should be artists, poets, and dreamers, too,” he said.
Jenny Lien, a student in the Master of Science in Information Systems program, said she thought the edit-a-thon was important because women in STEM fields experience both conscious and unconscious discrimination, which drives many intelligent and ambitious women away.
“By participating in this, I hope people see the tremendous value women scientists bring,” she said. “I hope these biographies encourage young females to enter the fields and ultimately increase diversity currently missing in STEM.”
AU Students’ Union President Natasha Donahue, who is studying a Bachelor of Science, said she has personally experienced the challenges women in STEM face in their fields.
“I want to promote the work women have done in STEM and show how important it is for our perspectives and experiences to shine through in our work,” she said. “Not only that, but showing the challenges that women have faced in STEM will shed light on the adversity women face in STEM fields and build momentum to create systemic change.”
Reckseidler-Zenteno said she hopes this will become an annual event, with another edit-a-thon tentatively planned for Ada Lovelace Day next year.