A new group in Guelph looks to encourage excitement and engagement in sciences for girls, non-binary and gender nonconforming youth.
The Canadian Association for Girls in Science (CAGIS) is a not-for-profit organization supporting interest in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) programming for ages seven to 16. Celebrating its 30th anniversary in 2022, the organization has several chapters across the country, now including Guelph.
Chapter co-coordinators for the new Guelph chapter, Taigan MacGowan and Sadie McVey Neufeld, are excited to provide hands-on opportunities for youth in different disciplines. Originally, Guelph was part of a former chapter with Waterloo Region.
"I think we've chosen the right place to start the chapter and there's a lot of excitement locally," said MacGowan, noting up to 13 volunteers have already signed up, "Like, women in STEM in the area are excited about giving back to the next generation."
On Oct. 1, the chapter will host its first event called 'The Science of Composting,' which will be taught by a soil scientist. After that, the chapter will meet once a month for a couple hours during the school year. For October, the chapter will also look at the chemical composition and PH of candy.
MacGowan adds the first event is free for people to register and masks are required. Parents are also welcome to stay and watch.
"It's a hands-on activity that children can learn and they can implement at home," said MacGowan. "It can also be applied to broader environmental sciences as well, because we can be talking about micro plastics, littering, or why having certain materials out in the environment can be so harmful."
"We wanted to start with some outdoor events while the weather is still nice and this person on our team had really good connections to composting and soil sciences, and we thought this was a great activity to get started with," added McVey Neufeld.
MacGowan recalls learning about CAGIS last fall and formed the chapter with McVey Neufeld, who joined in early 2022. She said programs like CAGIS can help break down stereotypes about who can be a scientist, especially when there is a lack of representation of female and non-binary or gender nonconforming scientists.
"Being a women in STEM and studying children's psychology, this was something right up my alley, because I understand how children learn and how children socialize, so I understand the barriers that are in place, for girls specifically, going into STEM careers," MacGowan said about joining CAGIS.
"I'm in clinical child's psychology, so I also support child development and working for children and this seems like a great way to engage with the youth community and promote science engagement that wasn't directly tied to my schooling," said McVey Neufeld.
"I think there are so many areas of sciences that are inant to this area, which are really nice to capitalize on. We have the agricultural community, the food and nutrition science community, which is very large, as well as veterinary science. I think these are things that children might know exist in their area, but haven't had a chance to engage with it or see it in action."
CAGIS Founder and president, Larissa Vingilis-Jaremko, started the organization at the age of nine. In many ways, she said CAGIS is staying true to its roots, but thinks it's wonderful to have people bring new ideas to programming.
"The two coordinators in Guelph are really great and they're young, exciting STEM experts themselves, and will bring their own spin," said Vingilis-Jaremko.
Vingilis-Jaremko adds programming offered by each CAGIS chapter can vary depending on the STEM specialties available in the area. There is also virtual programming for youth not close to a CAGIS chapter.
"In KW and Guelph, there's a stronger tech sector than in other parts of the country, whereas the coast there's more marine biology," said Vingilis-Jaremko, "It's always great to see the regional specialties coming through and what each coordinator, and each coordinating team, will bring to the table."
To join CAGIS, participants are required to pay a membership fee which provides access to events. CAGIS provides financial support to obtain a membership. Residents can learn more about CAGIS at girlsinscience.ca.