By Eraina Hooyer
There are many jobs in the province that are still traditionally male-dominated. Although that is increasingly changing as more women are entering different areas of the workforce the number of women in certain careers remains low.
The Women in Scholarship, Engineering, Science and Technology (WISEST) summer research program at the University of Alberta strives to provide the career tools and information to young women who are interested in research.
Grade 11 student Leah Miedema, from Ponoka, is one of the 61 students that took part in the program this summer. A student at St. Augustine School, Miedema spent her time in the chemistry lab studying organic molecules.
Gail Powley, WISEST vice-chair, believes in the importance of having women as an active part of the work force in the science department.
“There needs to be diversity in the research area,” she said. “Women are under represented in this type of work and research has shown that they do not have the role models to inspire students.”
The students meet weekly as a group and discuss their experiences and are involved with other areas of learning such as research presentations, tours of other labs and small group discussions with women and men in non-traditional career roles.
“It gives them an excellent opportunity to work within the research environment and a chance to be mentored by Canada’s leading researchers,” said Powley. “It gives them insight into a new world and they learn from these incredible role models.”
Powley also feels that the program helps bring students with a common interest together to learn in an environment where they feel comfortable to share their thoughts and discoveries.
“With this program, students with the same interests are brought in from all over Canada,” she said. “There’s support in trying new areas and it makes the students feel less isolated. They have great support, information and inspiration. The program helps build these networks and many of the students become really good friends.”
Powley says that in addition to developing friendships and knowledge is the self-assurance that comes about. She believes that the program will also help meet a need in the province and that the goal is to work towards encouraging these students in their career goals.
“It’s exciting to see the confidence that they have built and that they can speak about their projects. It’s great to witness their growth and what they can achieve,” she said. “Research is an area where women can make a huge difference. We really need to help work with them and show them how exciting these careers can be and that they can make the careers exciting themselves. We have great support here in Alberta, now, we just have to make the most of that opportunity.”