Closing the STEM Gap – Starting with the chemistry community

Faculty of Science
Chemistry and Biomolecular Sciences
Equity, diversity and inclusion
PhD candidates Leah McMunn, Melodie Mallais and Myriam McKenna
Diversity drives innovation: a simple phrase that inspired the creation of countless equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) initiatives. This is particularly true in STEM disciplines, where a significant lack of representation of women, members of visible minorities, Indigenous Peoples and persons with disabilities, persists.

The Canadians Working Towards Inclusivity in Chemistry (CWIC) chapter at the University of Ottawa strives to combat underrepresentation in STEM. As part of the national CWIC network, their objective is to promote EDI in the chemical sciences at uOttawa by developing a community for women and other minority groups to strengthen their sense of belonging.

PhD candidates Leah McMunn, Melodie Mallais and Myriam McKenna have played a key role in developing the CWIC uOttawa chapter since its establishment in 2020. As chemistry students themselves, Leah and Myriam – co-founders of the chapter – were inevitably made aware of the additional barriers that impede the success of women and other underrepresented groups in the chemical sciences. Striving to counter gender and racial disparities, Leah, Myriam, Melodie and the other members of the CWIC uOttawa team helped develop and implement several initiatives, such as the Inspiring Person of the Month campaign, the EDI Book Club and Library, and an annual Research Day. 

The Inspiring Person of the Month campaign highlights the diversity of students in the Department of Chemistry and Biomolecular Sciences and showcases their achievements. The objective is to inspire younger students to pursue graduate degrees in STEM by providing them with role models they can identify and relate with. These highlights can be accessed on both their Twitter page and website.

In the Book Club, a small group of students reads and discusses various books, including those related to science, pop-culture, and EDI. The club gives people a space to communicate about EDI topics, gain new perspectives and learn about diverse cultural backgrounds, not only through the readings but also from other club members. To ensure affordability, the CWIC uOttawa team set up an EDI Library for Faculty of Science students, located on uOttawa campus and funded through Campus Vibez – the uOttawa clubs association.

The Research Day is an annual information session aiming to educate undergraduate students about graduate studies and promoting research in chemistry. The session is open to all – where undergraduate students can speak to graduate students from a wide range of backgrounds, hear about their experiences and acquire information on the different research opportunities available at uOttawa.

A few optimistic outcomes have already been observed since the implementation of the CWIC chapter, ranging from a more open atmosphere for communication about EDI-related topics to strengthening the sense of community within underrepresented groups in chemistry. According to Leah, “It takes a long time for change to happen, but hopefully starting the discussion and educating helps to seed that change”.

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