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Featured Sponsor: WISE Atlantic

Formed in the fall of 2011, Women in Science and Engineering (WISE Atlantic) is a perfect fit for Techsploration with many common goals.  

The primary goal of WISE Atlantic is to encourage young women to consider careers in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) and to consider themselves as valuable potential contributors to these fields. WISE Atlantic is chaired by Dr. Tamara Franz-Odendaal, an Associate Professor at Mount Saint Vincent University (MSVU) and one of five academics awarded the Chair for Women in Science and Engineering (CWSE). These positions are funded by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), the academic’s university and industry sponsors. Dr. Franz-Odendaal holds the first NSERC funded CWSE position in Nova Scotia.

In addition to being the WISE Atlantic Chair she also runs an active research group at MSVU. Her research area is developmental biology and morphology, specifically focusing on craniofacial development and the anatomy of vertebrates. Currently studying how gravity affects the development of bones in the skull of the zebra fish, this research helps determine how a zero-gravity environment would affect an unborn child, should an astronaut be pregnant while in space. Earlier this year, she received the American Association of Anatomists Young Investigators Morphological Sciences Award. More information about her research and discoveries can be found in her Women in Action web video; one of many videos funded by WISE Atlantic.  

Beginning our partnership almost two years ago, WISE Atlantic agreed to fund three Women in Action web videos per year over five years. Videos to date include a developmental biologist (Dr. Franz-Odendaal), a veterinarian, and an electrical/systems engineer. More videos are coming and will be announced on both Techsploration’s and WISE Atlantic’s websites and social media networks.

“The Women in Action Videos are a huge hit wherever I present them, and we are very excited to be involved in this initiative,” says Dr. Franz-Odendaal

Additionally, Dr. Franz-Odendaal and her students, as well as other role models from WISE Atlantic participate in Techsploration events, sharing their careers and research with our participants. In 2012, Dr. Franz-Odendaal and her students were role models for the Techsploration team from Pictou Academy, inviting them to the lab at MSVU, showing them their research and helping the team create a presentation and skit about what they learned.

WISE Atlantic has initiated Girls Get WISE Science Retreats, one-day events in the spring, as well as a week-long Girls Get WISE Science Summer Camp. Both events enable hands-on learning by doing experiments and learning about science careers.

In the most recent Girls Get WISE Science Summer Camp, 24 junior-high school girls learned about biology, engineering, entrepreneurship and computer programming. On the first day of camp, girls breed and hatch zebrafish then watch their growth and development throughout the week, learning how to identify different growth stages. In the process, they also learn how to confidently use a microscope and other lab equipment.

During the camp, girls also learn about many other topics; programming interactive invitations for the open house, performing DNA extractions from fruit, designing and constructing bridges and towers, making sense of supermarket labels, and the connections between art and science. 

“Our science camp provides a unique opportunity for junior-high school girls to get excited about science and to meet women in science-related fields face-to-face,” says Dr. Franz-Odendaal. “They are so comfortable in the lab now; they know exactly what they are doing.”

It shows! Within a few minutes of entering the lab, four junior-high girls had on their lab coats and their fish in a petri dish with their microscope set-up; ready to show representatives from Techsploration how their fish had grown and their stage of development.

“It’s a really exciting, well thought-out, and fun camp,” says Molly Murray, a grade eight student attending the Science Summer Camp for the second time. “You don’t have to be strong in math or science to be in the camp, but it makes it seem so cool that you want to learn about it. I learned a lot of things; I didn’t know there were so many science and math careers.”

For more information about WISE Atlantic and their programs and services, please check out their website, find them on Facebook or follow them on Twitter.