ASTRONOMY INSPIRES CHILEAN GIRLS
- Sixty-two girls from Puente Alto, Quilicura, and Toconao took part in the AstroTáctil exhibition and an innovative “speed dating” event so ambassadors from various STEM careers could meet with the girls and share the excitement of astronomy in a one-on-one setting.
With the purpose of inspiring young women to consider scientific, technological, engineering and mathematical vocations (STEM), ambassadors of Chilean astronomy and related careers held a “Speed Dating to Promote STEM Careers” with 62 young women from schools in Puente Alto, Quilicura, and Toconao. This innovative activity –organized by AUI/NRAO-ALMA Observatory, in collaboration with SOCHIAS and Inspiring Girls Chile– hopes to expand interest and inclusion in STEM careers and become part of the future educational agenda in Chile.
This initiative provided the opportunity for young women to meet and talk with professional women in STEM careers and listen to their first-person testimonies. Students from the following schools participated in this inaugural event: Colegio Cardenal Juan Francisco Fresno and Colegio Polivalente Arzobispo Crescente Errazuriz, both from the county of Puente Alto in Santiago; Colegio Juan Luis Undurraga Aninat, of the Quilicura county in Santiago; and Complejo Educacional Toconao, a neighbor of the ALMA Observatory in the San Pedro de Atacama county.
The AstroTáctil exhibition allowed girls to learn astronomical concepts through touch, using Solar System, Earth, and space probe models. These models are principally used to teach astronomy to people with vision impairment, but they are also used to deepen the understanding of people in general. Additionally, there was a Chilean sign-language interpreter, to reinforce the inclusive message and to demonstrate that difficulties in life are no impediment to pursuing a STEM career.
In today’s world, careers have multidisciplinary approaches in different industries, and astronomy is no alien to this trend. At astronomical observatories, disciplines like information technology, engineering, mathematics, risk prevention, human resources and communications, among others, besides astronomy complement each other and are absolutely necessary. This creates new opportunities for the next generation of Chilean women.
STEM ambassadors, chosen to inspire young women, are recognized icons in their own disciplines. Those who participated in the “Speed Dating” activity included: Dora Altbir, physicist expert on nanoscience and nanotechnology at Universidad de Santiago de Chile; Paulina Assmann, astronomer at Universidad de Concepción; Blanca Camucet, computer engineer from the European Southern Observatory; Sonia Duffau, astronomer at Universidad Andrés Bello; Soledad Fuica, software engineer at the ALMA Observatory; Laura Gómez, Violette Impellizzeri and Liza Videla, astronomers at the ALMA Observatory.
Paulina Bocaz, representative of Associated Universities Inc. (AUI) and the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) in Chile, explained that her organization is funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation. As such, in addition to their scientific mission, they have the mission and the commitment to contribute to the greater participation of traditionally underrepresented groups in STEM disciplines. Gender equality is an important element in such goal. “We are working to awaken and promote scientific vocations in young girls; there is no better way to do this than to personally meet role models. We strongly believe that workplaces and astronomy are enriched with the contribution of diverse disciplines, capacities and genders,” said Bocaz.
Sonia Duffau, board member of the Chilean Astronomical Society (SOCHIAS), explained that this initiative is strongly aligned with their inclusion and gender goals, given that it allows collaborating to inspire new astronomy-related careers in schools throughout Chile. “We hope that the activities carried out today translate into lasting collaborations over time. It was a wonderful experience being able to pass on, first-hand, our work experience in astronomy to these young girls who are still defining their career interests. We provided tools for them to carry and pass on this message in their schools and to their families, so they become agents of change to debunk myths and to build new realities, breaking stereotypes and empowering their life decisions… this impulse has a multiplier effect,” said Duffau.
Finally, Macarena Salosny, chair of Inspiring Girls Chile, stated that this is the first “speed dating” dedicated to women in STEM. The goal is to show that being a woman is no impediment to their professional development in any area they chose like, economy, politics or management, and especially STEM, which is a sector with low female participation. Women occupy only 16 percent of executive positions. “In order for women to hold more leadership positions they need stronger female role models. For that, it is necessary to generate spaces for awareness, dissemination and contact in educational and community settings, in addition to raising the visibility of women who are leading the way. This way we can break the stereotypes built around women in science,” said Salosny.
EXPERIENCE OF GIRLS AND TEACHERS OF TOCONAO
Camila Pérez (13 years old), an 8th grade student at Complejo Educacional Toconao, was one of the participants in the STEM careers speed dating. “I love science and I would like to be a doctor when I grow up. It was a great experience being able to talk to women who chose working in science despite the adversities and who are happy today doing what they love, encouraging us to do our best, pursuing and achieving our dreams and challenges,” she said.
Despite living in a region with big development in astronomy, the students pointed out that it would be interesting to create more spaces to bring the school community closer to this science. According to the students, teachers play a key role in motivating students to learn about STEM careers, through creative and inspiring methods, as is the case in her school.
Evelin Zelada (14 years old) a ninth grade student, appreciated the initiative and pointed out: “This is a one of a kind experience to learn about women who work in different areas of science, who have struggled for their goals breaking paradigms and, even if they studied different careers, today they applied their knowledge in astronomy. Today’s world is very diverse and versatile and that opens up great opportunities for Chilean women in the future, breaking any barriers.”
For Mabel Codocedo, biology and natural science teacher from fifth through twelfth grade, these types of activities are an invaluable and rich experience for teachers and students. “It was very interesting and encouraging to know about the opportunities to work in science and that implies important challenges for those of us who work in the classroom. This kind of approaches motivate us to keep teaching and innovating, breaking down barriers and debunking myths and stereotypes,” she said.
The experience of the “Speed Dating to Promote STEM Careers” event will be shared with the academic community in the traditional “Master Class” that the Toconao school holds. “We expect to repeat this dynamic in the future with the entire school community, so we can reach out to all of our kids – boys and girls. This way we will be able to activate a force of change and inspiration with role models,” added Codocedo.
Finally, for Patricio Angulo, director at Complejo Educacional Toconao, this activity is another example of ALMA’s commitment to education. “Thanks to this commitment, we receive support through the Inquiry-Based Science Learning Program (ECBI), which promotes development and investigative curiosity in science. In addition, we have academic consulting to improve teaching techniques and educational inclusion of students with disabilities. Today we have included 50 students with special needs,” pointed out the director.
Complejo Educacional Toconao has 260 students and their first class of 16 students graduates this year. For this school, promoting astronomy as part of its heritage and identity is practiced through workshops, observations at night, donations and invitations, and contributing to the student’s awareness with astronomical knowledge.
About the institutions
The Chilean Astronomy Society, SOCHIAS, is an organization that gathers more than 200 professional astronomers working in Chile. It promotes activities focused on inclusion, and works on gender issues related to STEM careers. These activities include people with vision or hearing impairment in public activities of spreading, promotion of activities for making women in science visible, support for scientific vocations for girls, and motivating the scientific community to open up and invest in inclusion.
Inspiring Girls Chile, is the first Inspiring Girls International representative in Latin America. It is a foundation dedicated to increasing self-esteem and to raise professional aspirations of girls around the world, by connecting them with female role models. Its goal is to expose young girls (10-15 years old) to the full variety of careers and jobs a woman can carry out with no limitations for the simple fact of being a woman. The aim is to raise personal and professional development aspiration of girls by putting them in touch with volunteer ambassadors.
AUI/NRAO, North-American partner of ALMA’s Observatory, promotes education programs and dissemination of astronomy, with special emphasis on diversity and inclusion. In Chile, AUI/NRAO carries out activities to make diversity and inclusion issues visible, like the first Workshop on Women in Astronomy and Engineering held in October 2017, and encourages the participation in STEM of traditionally underrepresented groups, including women/girls and low-income communities.