May 9, 2019

Job shadowing encourages Calgary girls to consider STEM careers

Global Research Initiative hosts six Grade 8 students on campus with Operation Minerva

There were smiles all around as the yellow bus bringing a group of Grade 8 students pulled up to the University of Calgary main campus. On May 2, the office of the Global Research Initiative in Sustainable Low Carbon Unconventional Resources (GRI) hosted Operation Minerva, an event that brings Grade 8 girls to the workplaces of female professionals in the Science, Technology, Engineering or Math (STEM) fields.

2019 marks the 30th year Operation Minerva has been working to address the under-representation of females in the STEM fields by connecting young women in Calgary with female mentors. Since 1989, the program has led to an increased number of young women choosing to pursue a post-secondary education with further studies or even careers in the STEM fields.

As part of its participation in the program, the GRI office invited four UCalgary Highly Qualified Personnel to facilitate job-shadowing opportunities for the young participants so they could experience first-hand what a typical day in the life of a female STEM professional entails. The mentor team included Dr. Ranjani Kannaiyan, postdoctoral fellow, Dr. Beatriz Molero Sanchez, PhD, Chemistry, and Shokoufeh Manouchehr, lab tech and outreach co-ordinator, Canada Excellence Research Chair Program in Materials Engineering for Unconventional Oil Reservoirs.

The young participants had the opportunity to tour labs, chat with the researchers about their careers and engage in hands-on activities that demonstrate the STEM fields in engaging and immersive ways. They also met with Dr. Cindy Graham, vice-dean, Faculty of Science over lunch to learn about her background, experience and inspiration to pursue a career in STEM.

“It was a real honour to speak with the young women participating in Operation Minerva on campus again this year. Job-shadowing programs like this are a great way to encourage and promote a positive environment to support math and sciences. These young women could see for themselves what women in STEM at UCalgary are achieving and how we’re making our world a better place through research and teaching our future generation of scientists,” says Graham. “I’m excited to see how this experience sparked their curiosity and passion for a future in STEM.” 

UCalgary has a commitment to close the gender disparity in STEM fields and to support and encourage women who are interested or engaged in science or engineering careers. Hosting events and participating in initiatives like Operation Minerva helps inspire the next generation of female STEM experts but also change perceptions around careers in these fields. One of the mentors was curious to know how the youngest generations think about science. “I had a lot of fun asking our participants what pictures come to mind when they think about scientists. There were some great answers and that ‘picture’ shows the societal perception about scientists. While this perception has been changing over the years, it needs to evolve even more,” says Dr. Beatriz Molero Sanchez, PhD. “STEM professionals still have work to do to demystify who scientists are and what their everyday lives look like. Mentorship and job-shadowing programs such as Operation Minerva are great initiatives to help us do this and to open the minds of young women to the many possibilities in STEM.”

For the 2019 event, Operation Minerva paired 140 students with 14 mentor companies. In addition to the GRI, two other UCalgary groups participated in Operation Minerva: Clinical Neurosciences and the Human Performance Lab. The University of Calgary was the only academic institution in the city participating in this year’s Operation Minerva day.