Last week I had the pleasure of interviewing Meghan Yip from Ms Infinity Ontario as part of our STEM career guidance: benchmarks and practice project. Meghan is a health sciences graduate student from the University of Guelph who also acts as the director of Ms Infinity Ontario which is a voluntary organisation dedicated to raising girls interests in STEM and STEM careers. The organisation’s volunteers are mainly current undergraduate and graduate students, but it draws on wider networks of support.
Meghan described the work of the organisation to me. Explaining how its activities are centred on an annual conference where high school students have the opportunity to meet and hear from women who work in STEM. Meghan notes that she has benefitted from support from strong female role models and sees Ms Infinity as a way of passing on opportunities to current high school students. The conference is a mixture of inspiring keynotes, panel discussions, often featuring women who are at earlier stages of their careers, and experiential activities designed to give participants a taste of what working in STEM involves.
The conference organisers work hard to ensure a range of jobs both in terms of entry level and disciplinary background. Meghan notes “most opportunities in science require a post-secondary education, but we are trying to provide a range of different kinds of jobs. Miss Infinity is not just about ‘high flyers’ it is trying to engage all girls.” She also notes that while the numbers of girls interested in life sciences are growing, there is far less change in the physical sciences but hopes that opportunities such as Ms Infinity can inspire more girls to pursue the physical sciences. “We are really trying to provide more opportunities through Miss Infinity to interest girls in the hard sciences and engineering.”
Although Ms Infinity Ontario’s activity is centred on the annual conference the organisation is active year round. Key to its activities is an ongoing engagement with high schools through visits where volunteers have the opportunity to talk to students, raise awareness of science careers and invite them to the annual conference.
Meghan described the challenge of engaging high school students in thinking about STEM careers.
When we go in and talk to classes we notice that a lot of the girls don’t see themselves in science careers. We’ve noticed that that this is particularly the case in mixed groups. We have encountered girls interested in science careers, however, at times they don’t want to share their enthusiasm for our initiative or talk about their future in sciences in the mixed classes. This is different when we chat with the girls in smaller groups or one-on-one.
She notes that it is not always easy gaining access to high schools or changing attitudes, but says that where there is good buy in from principals, teachers and guidance counsellors, they find it easier to engage students.
We try and inspire people by providing them with information about career opportunities in STEM. Often the girls we talk to haven’t even heard of many of the careers we tell them about. We can then talk to them about what they need to do in order to achieve these careers.