At Crocus Plains Regional Secondary School in Brandon, we’ve made introducing more girls to the excitement of the STEM* fields a priority for the past three years. Our 2021 STEM for Girls program wrapped up after virtually hosting 10 different presenters from around the world from April 12-23.
The program launched in 2018-19, when Zeel Patel, a Grade 12 student in my physics class, approached me about what she could do to attract more young women to the STEM fields. Having been the only female in her AP calculus, AP computer science, and Grade 12 physics, she wanted to make sure no other girl would have to go through these courses being the only girl in the room. From there, Zeel developed a plan for a week-long program with my input and guidance as teacher supervisor.
This first year saw a variety of interactive workshops from STEM teachers at Crocus Plains as well as Let’s Talk Science! from Brandon University. A similar program was held last year that built off the success of the first event, but with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, we looked for a new approach.
After discussion with this year’s Grade 12 student organizer, Kendal Giesbrecht, and her STEM for Girls committee, composed entirely of Students, we decided to make this year’s program virtual. We used contacts I had developed at CERN, the Perimeter Institute, and the Canadian Light Source to book world-leading experts from each of these institutions and a few teachers at Crocus Plains that were able to provide physically distanced, interactive workshops. This year’s program was also open to students across the Brandon School Division. Teachers joined with their classrooms from the other high schools as well as a couple of grades five and six classes and even a grade three student.
Women presenters were selected to cover as many of the STEM fields as possible. Students had the opportunity to speak with experts on everything from fake news to volcanoes. These extraordinarily accomplished women spoke about their journeys and the challenges they faced in what are typically male-dominated fields.
For special presentations in May and June, I reached out to Dr. Manjit Dosanjh, a leading cancer expert and the senior medical advisor at CERN, plus renowned astrophysicist and author, Dr. Katie Mack. Dr. Dosanjh’s first of two talks was on cancer research and how small particle accelerators using protons or carbon ions, can be used to target cancer cells in patients without harming healthy cells, with little to no side effects. Her second talk was on her work as the United Nations representative for the International Federation of University Women and as a Champion for Women in Science. She recently contributed to an international panel at the UN’s Commission on the Status of Women on the empowerment of women through STEM. Dr. Mack recently released The End of Everything (Astrophysically Speaking), which was recognized as one of the New York Times’ Notable Books of 2020.
Our virtual program made it possible for these incredibly successful women from around the world to speak to students at a high school on the Canadian prairies, but students still hope for the face-to-face return of STEM to Crocus.
Every school could benefit tremendously from a program like this and it doesn’t require rounding up a panel of world-renowned professionals. Local students and educators are just as keen to share their knowledge. Young women in school today need to see that they can be successful at STEM. They need to know that it is a dream to pursue, and that whatever they choose, they need to follow their dreams.
At this year’s Brandon Teachers Association’s L.I.F.T. event on the Provincial PD Day, I will be presenting on the STEM for Girls program that we have developed at Crocus Plains.
*Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics
Christopher Sarkonak is a writer/contributor for the Manitoba Teacher magazine.