A Mission of Diversity
After getting my masters at the University of Edinburgh, I wanted to go on and do some more research. At that time, Canadian Universities were advertising for graduate students. I applied to various universities throughout Canada and heard back from the University of Alberta. They sent me a reply along with a pre-paid cable for my response. I accepted, and it was an incredible decision.
The opportunity and the funding were in Edmonton. The Chair of Chemistry encouraged me to start a research program, where I was able to build the foundation of my career in Chemistry. There was a lot of freedom and flexibility to get a program like Women in Scholarship, Engineering, Sciences & Technology (WISEST) started.
It all began in 1982. I received a call from Dr. Gordon Kaplan, then the VP of Research at the U of A. He told me that we must do something about the gender diversity on campus and figure out why there aren’t more women studying science and engineering. After much research our task became clear: to develop programs that would encourage young women to explore careers in engineering and the sciences.
Women in Scholarship, Engineering, Sciences & Technology or WISEST was founded to promote the participation of women in non-traditional careers. We have three programs aimed at three specific age groups. Choices is a conference for grade 6 girls to show them that science and engineering are fun careers filled with wonder and creativity. SET is a one-day conference for young women in grades 10-12, where students have the opportunity to do lab experiments and meet women working in science, engineering and technology. The Summer Research Program is a six-week program offered to young men and women who have completed grade 11. They work as part of a research team at the U of A in a non-traditional field.
Really good hands-on opportunity is what excites people into science and engineering. WISEST provides programs that broaden students’ choices they are going to make when they come to university. It’s pretty inspiring when women who have gone through one of the programs run up to me in an airport or a grocery store and say “I was a WISEST student! This is what WISEST did for me.”
WISEST was unique: it began at a University. That has been wonderful for the students associated with the program. At the University of Alberta, we have dedicated academics that are committed to teaching and sharing their passion for their discipline. Many of them have supervised, mentored and encouraged WISEST students. How fortunate we are in Edmonton to have a renowned institution like the University of Alberta with its ground-breaking researchers who take time to teach and inspire these young people.
Dr. Margaret-Ann Armour is a founding member and former Vice-chair and Convenor of Women in Scholarship, Engineering, Science and Technology (WISEST). She has received numerous national and international awards for her research, teaching and encouragement of women into the sciences – including the Order of Canada in 2006.