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Women in Science and Engineering (WiSE)

From April 6 to April 12, we hosted a group of nine female professionals in different areas of science and engineering hailing from different parts of Central Asia, Northern Africa and the Gulf countries. The group had traveled to Washington D.C., Indianapolis, Indiana and Portland, Oregon before arriving to Boston on April 6.

 Several universities around the country have a WiSE (Women in Science and Engineering) Program to help create a community of and for women in the sciences at their university. Most programs are led by university science faculty and encourage women to concentrate in the sciences and to pursue professions and graduate study in science, math, and engineering. Many universities also create programs to encourage high school students and young girls to explore science and engineering as potential career paths. According to the Math and Science Education Initiative, only 23% of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) workers are women, however women make up 48% of workers in all occupations. This number has grown over the past ten years, but it is still a small percentage. The Initiative also claims that women who work in STEM earn 33% more than their counterparts in other fields.

 On Tuesday April 8, I first met with Dr. Nadija Zermane from Algeria, Ms. Zainah Mohammad from Kuwait, Ms. Aisha Al Wahaibi from Oman, and Ms. Randa Flsalahi from Sudan. We went to Faneuil Hall for some shopping and to grab a quick lunch. While the day was grey and humid, the ladies really enjoyed exploring the shops and food Faneuil Hall has to offer. While walking around Faneuil Hall, Dr. Zermane and Ms. Flsalahi shared with me a little bit about their work back home. Both ladies studied agronomic sciences and biotechnology in their respective countries. Dr. Zermane is a Senior Lecturer and Researcher of botany at the National Agronomic Institute in Algiers and Ms. Flsalahi is Assistant Professor and Head of the Biofertilization Department at the National Center for Research in Khartoum, Sudan.  They were both very eager to see Boston and told me they really enjoyed their appointments at Harvard University on Monday. After an hour of shopping, we had lunch and headed back to the bus to pick up the rest of the group.  

Several women in the group had individual appointments with professionals in their field earlier that day, but their first group appointment of the day was with Dr. Sandra Glucksmann, chair of Women in the Enterprise of Science & Technology (WEST). We met at Dr. Glucksman’s new office and labs for her newest venture Editas Medicine, Inc. She shared some of her research on genome editing technology and human therapeutics before describing her work at WEST. WEST is an organization that provides a forum for women in science and technology industries to network and share information about career advancement and skill development. She gave a quick overview of her work at WEST and opened the floor to questions. The group had several questions about being a woman in a male dominant field. She explained that there were several difficulties, including income inequality and unfair advantages. The group was surprised that gender inequality exists in the United States, since it is perceived as a country where men and women are equals. Dr. Glucksman asked them how inequality affects them in their countries. I was surprised to hear that several women believed that they are considered equal to their male counterparts in their respective fields. Ms. Muhammad mentioned that she and her brother, both computer engineers, get equal salaries and job opportunities in Kuwait. Dr. Mayssa Azzeh from the Palestinian Territories had a different opinion. She believed that while she had several opportunities and a good salary, many women in Palestine don’t have the same opportunities as her and others agreed with her. Several women in the group asked Dr. Glucksman if there was any possibility that WEST might create programs in Africa, the Middle East and Asia to promote science and engineering as a career path for women and she was very interested in doing so. After they finished their meeting, Dr. Glucksman was kind enough to show the group their lab. The group found this meeting very productive and informative.

 After leaving Dr. Glucksman’s office, we drove to Medford to meet with Dr. Merredith Portsmore of the Tufts University Center for Engineering Education and Outreach (CEEO). CEEO’s research focus is based on the United States’ growth in engineering-based curriculum projects at the K-12 level. CEEO hosts different camps for young girls and boys to use engineering as a problem solving technique. Dr. Portsmore showed the group videos of young children using critical thinking to solve several everyday problems. After her presentation, Dr. Porstman and her students opened the floor to questions. The group was very interested in knowing what observations Dr. Portsman had made regarding the difference between girls’ and boys’ ways to solve problems. The students said they noticed that girls Dr. Nigara Kambariddinova, a researcher at the National University of Uzbekistan, also had several questions about engineering programs at the K-12 level in the United States.

 We headed over to Harvard Square for some free time and to grab a quick bite to eat before heading to the next meeting. The sky cleared up and the day got warmer so the group was glad they were able to walk around Harvard Square and buy last minute souvenirs and enjoy some late lunch and coffee. After walking around Harvard Square and Harvard Yard, we boarded the bus and headed to the ladies’ next appointment with the Association for Women In Science (AWIS).

 AWIS is a national advocacy organization championing the interests of women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics across all disciplines and employment sectors. By breaking down barriers and creating opportunities, AWIS strives to ensure that women in these fields can achieve their full potential. At the AWIS offices near the MIT campus, they met with Ms. Beth Hovey, President of AWIS, Ms. Tooba Cheema, Vice President, Ms. Sharmistha Kundu, Co-Chair of the Mentoring Program and founder of AWIS Ms. Joanne Kamens.

I really enjoyed my day with the WiSE women. They were all very nice and outgoing and I was impressed with their backgrounds and extensive knowledge in their respective fields. What impressed me the most was that the group was mostly composed of young professionals in the fields. It is exciting to see that young women all around the world are entering the field of science and engineering, since it’s not a very popular career path with women. I hope the group learned more about how to promote science and technology education and that they’re able to share the newly acquired knowledge in their respective countries. I wish the best of luck to this group and hope to see more women in the science and technology fields around the world!

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