Dianna Cowern (left) and Emily Callandrelli (right)
But what both Emily Calandrelli and Dianna Cowern have in common — besides being speakers at the forthcoming Jasper Dark Sky Festival — is that they are both women in an industry commonly dominated by men. Here, they discuss why encouraging more women to go into science, technology, engineering and mathematics (aka STEM) is so important.
You both have long been advocates for women in STEM. Why is this something you’re passionate about?
Emily Calandrelli (EC): Because I'm in STEM and happen to be a woman, and for whatever reason I'm a minority. There are many factors that make this so, therefore I'm interested in identifying those factors and changing the barrier into STEM for the next generation.
Dianna Cowern (DC): I suppose the reasons I aim to support and encourage women in STEM are mainly personal. I had a wonderful physics teacher in high school who was a woman, and I want to pass along the same enthusiasm and curiosity she shared with me. Plus, when you see an imbalance holding women back in STEM, you can’t help but want to change it.
Have you noticed a shift in recent years? Whether in the number of women in STEM, or in the industries’ willingness to foster gender diversity, or even just in terms of public awareness?
EC: Not personally, but I'm hopeful for the future. There are more STEM books with females as the main characters and more blockbuster movies (like Star Wars the Last Jedi and Wonder Woman) that are featuring women as the lead. I think that will make a difference in the youngest generation.
DC: The numbers of women in the TEM part of STEM and most of the S’s (except biology) are low, but changing very slowly. I do think we’re becoming more comfortable discussing the problem and proposing solutions. The more we discuss, the more people will be comfortable saying, “I’d love it if my daughter became a scientist! She would flourish as a researcher.” Because she would.
What are the biggest obstacles we face in getting more women into STEM?
DC: Gender stereotypes. It can be as blatant as a girl being discouraged — “Math is probably not your subject, maybe try history?” — or it can be as subtle as hiring bias and grading bias based off of stereotypes. Imposter syndrome is also tough to overcome. When they’re the only woman in the room, many women feel an added pressure to perform.
EC: It's a nuanced issue. We need to normalize the idea of women in STEM through books, TV, movies, and in the media. We need to have just as many STEM toys advertised to girls as we do for boys (or more that are simply gender neutral). We need to address the harassment that occurs in various STEM fields. We need for people to acknowledge the bias they have in hiring and promoting. There's a lot of work to be done, but it's currently underway. I'm hopeful that meaningful change is coming!
What are you most looking forward to in regards to the Dark Sky Festival?
EC: Getting out of the city I live in, away from the light pollution, and experiencing the wonder of a pitch dark night with amazing people.
DC: I LOVE the outdoors. Give me a clear night sky and I’ll think about the vastness of our universe for hours. I’m also looking forward to getting people (particularly kids) excited about science with some of the demos we have prepared!
At the 2018 Jasper Dark Sky Festival (happening Oct. 12 - 21), Dianna Cowern will be doing fun science demonstrations at the Big Bang Expo and Emily Calandrelli will be on the SpaceTalks panel. Meet them both at the VIP Stargazing Reception, where you can join many more speakers (including astronauts Scott and Mark Kelly) for an exclusive evening of stargazing through telescopes and mingling over delicious cocktails and hors d’oeuvres at the Fairmont’s ORSO Restaurant.