By Jill Kathleen Wenderott
Women Supporting Women in the Sciences (WS2), an international organization that brings together and supports women and academic and professional allies in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), was recently awarded an innovation fund from the American Physical Society ( APS) Awarded Formation of international teams to design inexpensive laboratory kits for physics and materials science and distribute them to 5000 elementary and secondary school students mainly in East Africa. These teams will work with WS2 partners in East Africa who wish to participate in public outreach to deliver these kits to science laboratories and teach them to their local communities.
The origin of WS2 can be traced back to an intensive two-week live-in program of the Joint Undertaking for an African Materials Institute (JUAMI), which took place in Arusha, Tanzania (TZ) in 2016. JUAMI was co-founded by Sossina Haile, Fellow of the African Academy of Sciences and Walter P. Murphy Professor of Materials Science and Engineering at Northwestern University (Evanston, IL, USA). The JUAMI live-in programs bring materials scientists from the US, Africa and other countries together to forge connections to address the most pressing technical problems of our time. A unique feature of the JUAMI live-in programs is the formation of small, diverse teams of young researchers who come up with proposals for work in order to survive the two weeks.
“My group was called ‘Team Ushirikiano’ because it aimed to forge international research and mentoring partnerships through a matching program,” said Jill Wenderott, co-founder of WS2. “In the end our idea didn’t work out, but JUAMI connected me to Joyce Elisadiki and WS2 was born.” In conversations that followed their meeting at JUAMI, Wenderott and Elisadiki, both doctoral students discussed ways in which they can share resources and work together to support women in MINT worldwide. Their first collaborative project involved doctoral and postdoctoral students from Northwestern University and several institutions in TC (Nelson Mandela African Science and Technology Institution – NM-AIST, University of Dodoma, University of Dar es Salaam, Sokoine University of Agriculture) meeting virtually to create low-cost workshops professional development that fosters the organization of women and allies in STEM and sets career goals. These workshops are currently being taught by female STEM graduates and experts in TC in order to promote the promotion of women as STEM mentors (see photos).
Since the establishment of the workshops, which were completed in late 2019, WS2 has expanded its efforts to reach out to young girls and boys. This was made possible by receiving the APS innovation fund at the end of 2020. “Funding from APS is very exciting as it enables us to pursue the ambitious agenda of developing low-cost lab kits that prioritize local resources while motivating young girls to participate in practical activities that are central to STEM issues,” said Elisadiki, co-founder of WS2 and currently lecturer in the physics department at Dodoma University. Virtual international teams will be formed to design the laboratories for the remainder of 2021. These laboratories, with a focus on areas of physics and materials science, are being developed for elementary and secondary school students to be particularly relevant to women and girls. The laboratory manuals developed are made available free of charge on the WS2 website. Special funds are available to provide complete laboratory kits to our WS2 partners in East Africa.
Would you like to participate in the WS2 Lab Kit initiative? WS2 is looking for members of the Lab Design Team to participate in the creation of the cost-effective physics and materials science laboratories. Team members can be students, PhD students, professors, teachers, or professionals from around the world who are committed to designing and / or teaching physics and materials science concepts to students. A background in physics, materials science, or education is not required, but helpful. Applications for the Lab Design Teams should be submitted via our website (https://ws2global.org/lab-kits) April 6, 2021 (extended deadline!) . Due to the unpredictability of COVID-19, all team meetings are held virtually. In-person lab classes are tentatively scheduled for 2022, pending instructions from global health professionals.
WS2 is sponsored by the APS Innovation Fund, Northwestern University’s Materials Research Center and Materials Technology Center, and Northwestern University’s multicultural student affairs.