They are complicated topics – chemical compounds within pharmaceuticals and oilsands process affected water – but two local high school students were up to the task.
Emily Willette and Jenna Gill have both successfully completed the WISEST program at the University of Alberta. WISEST (Women in Scholarship, Engineering, Science and Technology) is a program aimed at increasing the amount of women who have careers based in math, science and engineering.
Fervone Goings, program coordinator, says historically there have been fewer women than men serving in these fields.
“There has been a gap with women in leadership roles in science, engineering, technology classrooms at the faculty level, and sort of every stage of academics,” she says.
“WISEST was established to understand why that was happening and what we could do and be proactive to encourage girls to not check out of engineering, science and math in school.”
She says girls typically show an interest in math and science while in elementary, but once in high school they tend to drift away.
The program puts high school students into laboratories so they can experience what a career in those fields would look like.
The program also places young men in the Faculty of Nursing or the departments of Human Ecology and Nutrition, where traditionally there have been fewer men working in these fields than women.
Willette, a Grade 11 student at St. Albert Catholic High School, says she was excited to graduate from the program.
“I have always had a passion for chemistry so I thought ‘hey this would be cool to do chemistry research for the summer and get paid’,” she says.
There were 40 students from Alberta chosen for the program and placed in paid positions to participate in research projects throughout the summer.
With a love of chemistry, Willette says she was thrilled to be placed in a project that had her dealing with pharmaceuticals.
“In the six weeks that you’re working in the lab, you’re getting more experience being hands on, making those mistakes and learning from them, you get to meet people and build relationships.”
The most difficult part was working with others who are in their second year of university and have more knowledge on the situation.
She says the program helped confirm her love for chemistry and says she wants to work as a pharmacist in the future.
Her sister completed a similar summer program at the university, which inspired Willette to apply for the WISEST program.
Jenna Gill, a student at Paul Kane High School was more open in her application on where she would be interested in working for the summer.
She ended up working in civil and environmental engineering, studying oilsands processed-affected water.
“We got to learn from mechanical engineers who are working with prosthetics, which I thought was very cool and I’m interested in that,” she says.
Gill says she doesn’t think that she’ll have a career in environmental engineering, but she does have an interest in nanotechnology and biomedical engineering.
“I know I like doing lab research, even though it’s not for everyone. There’s a lot of down-time and making mistakes but I think I have the patience for it.”
Both students spent the beginning of the program reading essays and learning equations to help them compile their research. The information was provided by peers and by the head researcher on the project.
Today both students are presenting their research findings from the summer at a fair being hosted at the University of Alberta.
For more information on the program visit http://www.wisest.ualberta.ca/programs/summerresearchprogram.aspx.