STEM conference engages, empowers young women

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

PhD candidate Ramina Adam sometimes uses family gatherings as a platform to encourage her younger, female relatives to hold onto their love of math and science.

“I pull up a chair, gather the little girls around and ask if they want to hear about neuroscience,” she said with a laugh. “I want the positivity and confidence around STEM to last into their high school years and beyond and encourage a passion for those fields.”

Adam also brought this message to a wider audience at the second biennial Inspiring Young Women in STEM (IYWSTEM) Conference on March 4, hosted at Western. As a co-chair of the event, she is part of an interdisciplinary team committed to inspiring, engaging and empowering young women who are considering a career in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics).

Approximately 250 undergraduate students, researchers and volunteers attended the one-day conference, organized by the Western Women in Neuroscience graduate student group, in partnership with Western’s BrainsCAN initiative and the Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry.

The agenda provided students with opportunities to learn from academic and industry leaders, connect with graduate programs and company representatives, and showcase their own research through an undergraduate student poster competition.

“We wanted to give young women access to tools and resources to continue in the STEM disciplines, and to build their confidence in seeking out role models,” explained conference co-chair Nicolette Noonan, a PhD candidate in Psychology. “The conference is a jumping off point for them to see all the different places they can go, and to show them the type of opportunities that exist.”

Four local STEM leaders presented keynote lectures as part of the conference, including Engineering faculty member Emily Lalone; alumna Claudette Critchley, Co-Founder and Chief Operating Officer of Big Blue Bubble; Savita Dhanvantari, a Schulich Medicine & Dentistry professor; and Lisa Saksida, PhD, Tier 1 Canada Research Chair in Translational Cognitive Neuroscience and Scientific Director of BrainsCAN.

Speakers addressed the unique challenges they encounter as women in STEM fields, and also offered advice and encouragement to the young people in the room. “You don’t have to look like the people who have the jobs you want,” Lalone told attendees. “If you’re interested in a career in STEM, there is a seat for you at the table.”

Elica Efremova, a fourth-year Medical Sciences student, presented a poster at the conference. “I came today because I wanted to hear from other women who have accomplished a lot in STEM, and get some ideas of what I might be able to do with my degree,” she said.

The diversity of STEM fields represented at the conference impressed Ekaterina Plaxiy, an aerospace engineering student from Ryerson University. “Coming from an engineering background, I’m enjoying networking with women outside my academic comfort zone,” she said.

Conference organizers are hopeful IYWSTEM will continue to expand in future years, and are looking at building it into a national event.