‘Spotlight’ video series brings women in STEM into focus

After being told that women “aren’t wired” for mathematics by her Ph.D supervisor, UBC mathematician Dr. Stephanie van Willigenburg almost gave up on her passion. Then, just at the right moment, her talents were recognized by a mentor who refueled her ambition.

This is just one of the handful of stories presented in the inspirational new “Spotlight” video series created by UBC based outreach groups eng•cite and Geering Up. Six videos in total will be released over a period of five days.

Geering Up promotes STEM for a wider age group (K-12) by running STEM summer camps and workshops, while eng•cite’s mandate is to increase female enrollment in engineering to 50 per cent by 2020 through events for high school students.

“Spotlight” profiles six women in STEM and is part of Science Literacy Week (September 18-24), a national celebration of everything science-y. With the series, the groups hope to dispel common misconceptions about what STEM is about.

In the first published video we see van Willigenburg exploring ideas through roundtable discussions, showing that science is made of teams, not lone geniuses.

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Although the videos focus on women, “Spotlight” wants to communicate that anybody can be in STEM and that STEM can be many things.

“We picked 5 women who ... showed a diversity of voices, a diversity of roles, and a diversity of people,” said Koby Michaels, video production coordinator at Geering Up and eng•cite. “There’s something in STEM for everybody.”

STEM diversification has already grown significantly in the past five to ten years, confirms Natasha Palmer, program manager for eng•cite. At UBC, “we’ve gone from 15 to 20 per cent of women in engineering up to 30 per cent.”

But there’s still lots progress to be made and progress requires initiatives like “Spotlight” to remind us that being a “genius” akin to Newton is not a prerequisite for entering the STEM field that you love.

The only prerequisite is passion, which we’re all capable of.