Six young women entering STEM disciplines in science, technology, engineering and mathematics will begin their studies this year with a $12,000 HeForShe IMPACT Scholarship from the University of Waterloo.
The new scholarship program is part of Waterloo’s ongoing efforts to achieve gender equity in academic programs that have traditionally been male dominated. They will be awarded to 24 young women over the next four years for a total of $288,000.
British actor Emma Watson, the UN Women Global Goodwill Ambassador, said: “I’m so inspired by the University of Waterloo’s efforts to achieve gender equality in our lifetimes. Their commitment to women in STEM is unparalleled. This scholarship programme is a perfect example of how the HeForShe movement is generating tangible change around the world.”
Two women joining the Faculty of Science this Fall were among the recipients. Anya Forestell wants to be an astrophysicist and Sarah Muth will be in the mathematical physics program.
Anya Forestell - Physics and Astronomy Program
Anya Forestell knew what to expect when she applied to Waterloo because she’s already been here as a visitor. “Waterloo really caught my eye last summer, while I was participating in the International Summer School for Young Physicists in Waterloo,” says Forestell, who grew up in Fredericton, New Brunswick.
Now starting a program in the Department of Physics and Astronomy, she dreams of becoming an astronaut, although she’s also open to exploring other paths. Forestell says there isn’t one moment when she realized astrophysics for her, but several.
It was more an accumulation of moments: looking through a telescope to perceive Jupiter’s moons left me in awe; reading books such as Brian Greene’s Fabric of the Cosmos blew my mind; attending one of Chris Hadfield’s talks inspired me. All of these moments confirmed little by little that astrophysics was my passion,” says Forestell.
Forestell says she’s been lucky to grow up with friends, family and teachers who support her career path, but realizes that gender equality is an issue in STEM fields. “I think one major challenge women will have to overcome, are unconscious gender biases, such as when men are offered higher starting salaries even if women have similar competencies,” says Forestell, adding that women in developing countries face even more barriers.
Getting the HeForShe scholarship makes her hopeful for the future. “Receiving this scholarship is a huge honour for me. HeForShe is an admirable program and I am so grateful for its help,” she says.
Sarah Muth - Mathematical Physics Program
At age 17, Sarah Muth is already laser-focused on her career goal to become a theoretical particle physicist. In fact, she’s known since grade nine.
That was a big motivation in applying to the Faculty of Science's mathematical physics program.
I love everything about physics. I like the idea of understanding the laws which govern the universe. It makes one feel powerful, but also sort of humbled,” says Muth.
Born and raised in Port Dover, Ontario, Muth is utterly devoted to her studies, having spent her summer working through physics textbooks. When she’s able to pull herself away, she’s volunteered at a long-term-care home as well as a group that helps individuals with developmental and physical disabilities. She also likes to make compilation CDs of her favourite music, mostly punk, experimental, indie, and post-punk.
Muth is pleased with the scholarship’s prestige, which she hopes will give her a boost in applying to the master’s program at Waterloo’s Perimeter Institute and then a PhD internationally.
She says she’s also pleased about the support for women. “I have been concerned about the issue of women lacking in STEM fields for quite some time, way before they offered me this scholarship,” says Muth. “At some critical age, girls are somehow being deterred, and very likely they're not being deterred explicitly. The issue is that there is some sort of implicit bias which is causing girls to believe that they are not as good at these fields,” says Muth.
She also thinks the gain to be had from women’s perspectives in a traditionally male field like theoretical physics is significant.
You want a diverse range of abilities and approaches to solve a problem, which is part of the reason it's so important.”
The other recipients of the 2015 HeForShe IMPACT Scholarships were: Sally Hui (Mechatronics Engineering), Jenny Ma (Computer Engineering), Joyce (Anqi) Yang (Computer Science) and Zhuo Yu (Mathematics).
The University of Waterloo is one of only ten universities worldwide to join the United Nations HeForShe campaign, a global commitment to promote gender equity.
Waterloo's HeForShe IMPACT 10X10X10 commitments also include boosting female participation in STEM outreach programs, enhancing female Faculty representation and attracting more female leaders to academic and senior leadership positions by 2020.