A Brief History of WISEST

The old WISEST logo.WISEST has been committed to the attraction, retention and advancement of women in roles non-traditional for their gender since 1982. Early that year, Dr. Gordin Kaplan, then University of Alberta Vice-President (Research), noted that of the 150 people at a seminar on microprocessors, only one of them was a woman. He gathered the help of fellow engineers, educators and academics to form a new group dedicated to increasing the proportion of women in decision-making roles in all areas, but especially in science and engineering. 

Gathering Evidence
The first step that WISEST took was the collection of data on the numbers of women in decision-making roles. As of December of 1981, only 19% of academic staff at the University of Alberta was female. The numbers were even lower in the fields traditionally considered male, with only 5% in the Faculty of Science and 2% in the Faculty of Engineering.
Some of the founding members of WISEST.
With the grounds for their mandate confirmed, Margaret-Ann Armour, Founding Vice Chair and her volunteer committee quickly got to work. In those early years, WISEST hosted two national conferences promoting women in science and began developing programs and networks that encouraged women to nurture and pursue a passion for science, engineering and technology.

Taking Action
In 1982 UAYs (University of Alberta Women in Science and Engineering) was established and had over 150 people at their first meeting. It soon became an effective learning and support network for female undergraduate and graduate students and continues today as UA-WiSE.

In 1984, WISEST ran its first Summer Research Program. The 6-week program placed 14 Grade 11 students from the Edmonton area in research facilities throughout the University of Alberta campus. Ten young women were placed in Science and Engineering fields and four young men did research in Human Ecology and Nursing. In the interest of building a balance of gender diversity in all fields of scholarship, the WISEST Summer Research Program continues to encourage young women and young men into fields non-traditional for their gender. It has expanded to include up to 60 participants from urban and rural areas throughout Alberta and beyond.

A mentor helps young girls with science.The SET (Science, Engineering and Technology) Conference began in 1987 and now hosts up to 200 young women from Grades 10-12. This one day program is designed to provide a taste of the possibilities available in Science, Engineering and Technology with the hopes of fostering an enthusiasm for these fields.

The members of the WISEST committee realized that such enthusiasm can start very early in a child’s life and thus developed the Choices Conference in 1991. This engaging program provides hands on activities for up to 600 Grade 6 girls interested in Science, Engineering and Technology.

The WISER (Women in Science, Engineering and Research) Network was established in 2008 to help retain and advance early career professionals in the SET fields.

New Initiatives
The First Annual WISEST Lecture was given by the Hon. A. Anne McLellan in 2010. Ms. McLellan spoke passionately about the necessity for a more flexible work environment conducive to the attraction, retention and advancement of women. The subsequent Annual Lectures, given by Dr. Elizabeth Cannon (University of Calgary President and Vice-Chancellor) and Dr. Elizabeth Croft (NSERC Chair for Women in Science and Engineering-BC & Yukon) have furthered the message of encouragement and empowerment.

New programs Meet a Mentor and IlluminateIT provide dynamic presentations and mentors to junior high students in that critical decision-making period transition to high school. And Tales from the Science Buffalo, piloted in 2011, provides opportunities for young Aboriginal students to explore their gifts in the sciences.