Archives to ensure legacy of ‘bold and brave’ women scientists and engineers

Posted on Wednesday, October 15, 2014

By Jennifer Larocque

Leading archivists and women scientists and engineers will work to establish an archive to make sure Canadian history recognizes the contribution of women to science and engineering. Participants at a workshop at the University of Ottawa September 11 and 12 agreed it was necessary to share present-day stories and gather information about prominent women in these professions.

Two University of Ottawa professors, Catherine Mavriplis of the Department of Mechanical Engineering and Ruby Heap of the Department of History and associate vice-president, research, were among four high-profile women who organized the workshop, entitled Creating the Memories and Celebrating the Legacy of the Bold and the Brave: Building the Archives of Women Scientists and Engineers in Canada. The event took place at the Social Sciences Building.

Mavriplis, who is also NSERC/Pratt & Whitney Canada Chair for Women in Science and Engineering for Ontario, said, “We’ve experienced 20 years or more of promoting women in science and engineering. We have to ask ourselves: ‘What is lasting and what is changing?’ This workshop began a unique opportunity for historians to work with scientists and engineers across disciplines to record a legacy that, based on the past, will inform today’s women, contribute to future efforts and influence generations to come.”

The workshop brought together 45 leading archivists and women scientists and engineers to determine key priorities for a newly established taskforce that will build the Archives of Women Scientists and Engineers in Canada.

The taskforce is led by Dr. Monique Frize, a former NSERC/Nortel Chair for Women in Science and Engineering for Ontario. Frize was the first woman to receive a BASc in electrical engineering from the University of Ottawa, in 1966.

Up to now, professional women scientists and engineers have underestimated the value of their contributions, resulting in lost records and artefacts. In the meantime, traditional archives have focussed on the work and lives of male scientists and engineers, participants said.

After a series of talks and working sessions, participants agreed that action was needed to propose funding opportunities to build this archive and create an inventory of existing archives.  Another priority is developing a guide for women scientists and engineers on how they can preserve their work.

Workshop participants included four current NSERC regional Chairs for Women in Science and Engineering (CWSE) as well as former chairholders. They are writing a book to document their work and share their wealth of knowledge with the women who will follow in their footsteps.

Penny Park, executive director of the Science Media Centre of Canada, stressed the importance of telling a story in a way that speaks to the media and the general public, to raise awareness of women in science and engineering.

Professor Claire Deschênes of the Université Laval Faculty of Engineering, a former NSERC/Alcan Chair for Women in Science and Engineering for Quebec, and Frize, a retired distinguished research professor at Carleton University’s Faculty of Engineering, were also key organizers of the workshop.

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