Event encourages final frontier as first choice

Paul Mayne//Western NewsParshati Patel, Educational Outreach and Communications Specialist at Western’s Institute for Earth and Space Exploration, said the upcoming Girls and Women in Space night is about getting young women excited about careers in space and science.

It’s good thing to have your head in the clouds – and perhaps even farther at times.

On Feb. 11, Western will host Girls and Women in Space, an event focused on inspiring women and girls about their potential success in the sciences.

Recognizing the International Day of Girls and Women in Science by the United Nations, the evening will features numerous guests, including Miriam Micael, project management engineer with the Canadian Space Agency; Hira Nadeem, President of Students for Exploration and Development of Space Canada; Shauna Burke, Health Sciences professor and member of the Institute for Earth and Space Exploration (Western Space); Athithya Aravinthan, President of the Western Physics and Astronomy Students Association; among others.

“We want to bring together these strong women to share what inspired them in their careers, what’s brought them where they are now and even where they want their career to go next,” said Parshati Patel, Educational Outreach and Communications Specialist with Western Space.

“Kids actually get labelled ‘nerds’ – which I think I was. Be proud of it; be proud of the fact you want to do things that are different and are perhaps not part of the mainstream. We want to provide that sort of inspiration.”

The event also celebrates the Junior Astronauts campaign, which offers encouragement to the next generation of potential Canadian astronauts by getting young Canadians excited about space and science, added Patel, MSc’12, PhD’16.

“We do this to keep the momentum going, to keep that ball rolling, and to share with the younger students to show them and teach them why space is so important to us in everyday life,” she said. “Knowing that women exist in this profession, in academia, and that you don’t have to be an astrophysicist to be part of space, you can be in engineering or law and still be part of space, creates that awareness. There is so much diversity out there for them to be a part of.”

At present, fewer than 30 per cent of researchers worldwide are women. According to UNESCO data (2014-16), only around 30 per cent of all female students select STEM-related fields in higher education. Globally, female students’ enrolment is particularly low in information and communications technology (3 per cent); natural science, mathematics and statistics (5 per cent); and in engineering, manufacturing and construction (8 per cent).

For Patel, following a chance visit to a planetarium while on vacation, she knew she wanted to go into science. She was just 12 years old.

“You never know,” said the astrophysicist. “You could walk into the observatory and it could change your life. Giving these young women the chance to talk with other women in different areas and different stages of their careers, they might aspire to one day do the same.”

Often attending space industry focused conferences, Patel is quick to note out of every hundred people there will be maybe 10 women – and even fewer people of colour.

“We want to encourage young women who don’t think they can be one of these people, who don’t see themselves represented that, without a doubt, they can achieve and do whatever it is they want,” Patel said.

Jointly hosted by the Department of Physics and Astronomy and the Institute for Earth and Space Exploration, the evening will include hand-on junior astronaut activities, women in space trivia and, of course, the opportunity to star gaze through the Cronyn Observatory’s main telescope

Girls and Women in Space is scheduled for 5-9 p.m. Feb. 11 at the Cronyn Observatory.