Halifax event encourages girls to pursue careers in STEM

Girls and boys practised science experiments for Discovering Women in STEM Day

Eleanor Redmond’s excitement shone through her safety glasses as she stirred the soap, salt and water base for her mashed strawberries.

She was learning how to extract DNA from strawberries.

“When I grow up, I really wanna be a chemist,” said Eleanor, 7.

She was one of about 100 children who attended the Discovering Women in STEM Day at Dalhousie University on Saturday. The event was organized by the Dalhousie chapter of Let’s Talk Science to celebrate the International Day of Women and Girls in Science.

Let’s Talk Science provides education and skills to youth in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

According to 2010 numbers from Statistics Canada, women made up 44 per cent or less of first-year STEM students in undergraduate degree programs in Canada.

In 2016, 34 per cent of people with a STEM bachelor’s degree and 23 per cent of science and technology workers in Canada were women.

Alexandra Oprea, one of the site co-ordinators of Let’s Talk Science at Dalhousie, said the program aims to let girls know science is a career option for them.

“I think there’s a lot of work to be done in terms of kind of escalating women once they get through the door,” said Oprea, a neuroscience student.

Alexandra Oprea is the site co-ordinator for Dalhousie’s Let Talk Science.   Seyitan Moritiwon

When the children were done extracting DNA from the strawberries, one of the volunteers talked about Rosalind Franklin, who discovered DNA structures but wasn’t recognized for her work.

It was a story eight-year-old Miranda Marr took to heart.

“That the first person who actually discovered DNA doesn’t get all the credit,” she said.

Miranda’s mother, Jennifer Legere, said it’s important to encourage girls to get interested in science in their formative years.

She believes having a good education in science will help people make informed decisions.

“Especially when you see like, the anti-vaxx movement, and things like that, comes from people not just understanding how the human body works,” Legere said.

While most participants were girls, some parents took their boys to the event.

Nada Sheppard was one of those parents. She said her children are home-schoolers and are curious about science. She also wanted her six-year-old son to see women represented in the sciences.

“There’s a lot of wonderful women in sciences, so I think it’s important that both boys and girls see that representation,” Sheppard said.

Jude Sheppard is making slime.   Seyitan Moritiwon

Her nine-year-old daughter Naomi already has a plan.

“I want to be a scientist who studies engineering,” Naomi said.

Besides DNA extraction from strawberries, the children also experimented with virtual reality, binary code bracelets, slime-making and an engineering challenge.

Eleanor’s mother, Jessica Redmond, offered encouragement as she took part in the activities.

Redmond said it’s important for girls to see a reflection of themselves in STEM occupations.

“If we want our young women to explore these as career opportunities, then they need to experience things like this at a young age,” Redmond said.

She said her daughter is in Grade 2 and is unhappy her class doesn’t have a designated science time in their schedule yet. Eleanor asked for chemistry lessons.

“I really like chemistry so I came here,” said Eleanor. “Well, I don’t really know much about it, but I just know I really like it.”

Seyitan Moritiwon

Seyitan Moritiwon

Seyitan is a journalism student at the University of King's College. She hung her lab coat after her degree in microbiology to start a career in journalism. Seyitan enjoys writing and cooking. She's a proud Nigerian who doesn't joke with her jollof rice.

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