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Women haven’t found it easy to excel in the competitive worlds of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).
For years, women have been underrepresented in these fields, and the J.D. Irving Ltd. 2019 Girls STEM Up Conference planned for March 23 in Fredericton hopes to spark conversations about the adversities that prevent women from pursuing careers in these fields.
Stephenville’s Simal Qureshi is one of nine students chosen to help organize this event, something she is passionate about.
“Our hope is to excite, empower, educate and emerge for those who attend this conference. It will allow them to showcase themselves, put themselves out there, gain knowledge and foster their ambitions,” Qureshi said Thursday.
“There is a low representation of female folks in the STEM fields, an inequity and inequality in fields such as biology and chemistry. We want to help produce a viable outcome, a stability for women in a variety of fields and not just have them go to what are being called ‘stable’ careers like law school.’’
Qureshi said this issue is everywhere. In her own classes, she says, female students are reluctant to raise their hand to answer a question in fear of being judged by others who have the pre-conceived notion of, “Oh my God, she doesn’t know that … because she is a female.”
“Rather, I want to be able to know how we can all work together to start the conversation about the challenges we are ready to take to make a meaningful change,’’ she added.
That conversation and many others will be started at the J.D. Irving Ltd. 2019 Girls STEM Up Conference, the first event of its kind in Atlantic Canada. The conference aims to empower women and celebrate diversity across the traditional STEM fields, where women have been historically underrepresented.
Event organizers hope to drive a conversation about the opportunities and barriers facing women of all ages from pursuing careers or further education in STEM areas.
“We are pleased to partner and sponsor the upcoming Girls STEM Up conference, a first for New Brunswick,” said Colleen Baxter, vice-president of human resources for J.D. Irving Ltd.
“We are committed to help empower the younger generation of females to get excited about pursuing careers in STEM. One key area where we want to see more females is in non-traditional occupations.”
Qureshi will graduate this spring with a bachelor of philosophy in interdisciplinary leadership from Renaissance College, with a double minor in sociology and biology. Renaissance College is a premiere university undergraduate leadership program located on the campus of UNB in Fredericton.
She firmly believes in the equality of representation of gender and fostering inclusivity for women in STEM fields.
“Take as an example, engineering. Those who graduate from that course want to make an impact, something as powerful as being a doctor, someone who helps people to feel better,’’ she said.
“If you design a bridge, it allows a family member, a mom, to get home to her kids quicker. That is making an impact.’’
This is just one example of where a difference can be made in a community.
“There are so many opportunities and it is an absolute pleasure to support an event so focused on driving this kind of change,” Baxter said.
“Our organization alone forecasts 7,500 full-time hires over the next three years, many in STEM fields.”
Girls STEM Up was inspired by a group of young female students who found a knowledge gap among their fellow students about opportunities for women in STEM.
The organizing committee is comprised of nine post-secondary students studying at the University of New Brunswick across multiple degree programs.
“We were incredibly excited when JDI extended an offer as the title sponsor,” said Jillian Lamb, the Girls STEM Up conference chair.
“To us, it was validation that someone else believed in the same vision and goals.”
Qureshi credited a conversation she had with Lamb during her first year at UNB with leading her to be part of Girls STEM Up.
She is looking forward to working with the organizing group and meeting passionate and inspiring individuals all striving for a similar goal.
Women are continually underrepresented in the STEM fields and the conference aims to spark conversations about the adversities preventing women from pursuing these careers.
This will bring new ideas to the forefront, foster networking opportunities and present an encouraging forum for delegates and speakers to share their experiences as women in STEM.
Girls STEM Up is open to women enrolled in high school or post-secondary education, as well as allies (students who do not identify as women, but support stronger female representation). More than 250 delegates are expected to attend the full-day conference at the Fredericton Convention Centre on March 23.
More than 20 speakers will take to the stage to connect with the delegates through keynote speeches, interactive workshops and panel discussions.