At the University of Northern British Columbia’s Terrace Campus, 30 young women in Grades 10 to 12 arrived after school on Feb. 6 to learn more about local, professional women succeeding in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).
Quantum Leaps is a conference designed to encourage and empower women to pursue further education or learn about a new STEM career.
Hosted by UNBC in partnership with a local non-profit, Northwest Science and Innovation Society (NSIS), the free event created an open space for young women to connect, ask questions, and get inspired.
This is the 11th year in a row for the Quantum Leaps conference.
“We really want to show students that there are local women here who are doing really amazing careers, and sometimes they are careers that they don’t even know exist,” said Christine Slanz, Executive Director at NSIS, who also organized this year’s event.
The stacked line-up of 11 speakers included an entomologist from Westcott Environmental Services in Smithers, a registered physiotherapist from Cedar River Physiotherapy and Rehabilitation Centre in Terrace, and an ultrasound technologist from Kitimat General Hospital.
“One of the reasons we continue to do it is because the statistics are still there that women aren’t in these STEM careers for science, technology, engineering, and math,” Slanz said.
Among Canadians aged 25 to 34 holding a bachelor’s degree in STEM fields, men were almost twice as likely to work in science and technology jobs as women in 2016, according to Statistics Canada.
In the same year, women accounted for 23.1 per cent of computer and information systems professionals. Almost one in seven of civil, mechanical, electrical, and chemical engineers were women.
“Learning more about these fields does open their eyes to the choices they can make and the studies they can pursue,” Slanz said.
In 2014, 85 per cent of girls reported they learned about a new STEM career after attending the Quantum Leaps Conference. Sixty-five per cent stated that they were interested in pursuing further education in these fields, according to the NSIS website.
One of the speakers had attended the 2014 conference when she was in Grade 11, and came back for this year’s event to share her own experience.
Eden Atkinson-Bruce is currently an undergraduate student at Northwest Community College (NWCC) and UNBC, pursuing an Integrated Bachelors of Environmental Science degree.
Other than being a full-time student, she works part-time as Ocean Networks Canada’s first Coastal Youth Science Ambassador.
“[The conference] has absolutely prepared me for the knowledge that I have now, and expanded my horizons for what is out there,” Atkinson-Bruce said. “I learned not to limit myself into thinking I should be something other people were telling me to be.”
Atkinson-Bruce said she loves her job because it is driven by science instead of profit margins.
“I’m not working for someone who wants me to make them as much money as possible,” she said. “My fellow coworkers in Victoria, B.C. are passionate, really knowledgeable and those are the kind of people I want to surround myself with.”