As described in Challenging Misconceptions and Stereotypes in Academic Achievement and STEM Outreach Part One, children emulate the images that they see as well as the values they are exposed to in their formative years. Role models play a key role in career decisions for young people.
On February 10, 2013, the Friends of Arlington’s Planetarium hosted an event designed to encourage the participation of young girls in science and to highlight the contribution of women to science throughout history. The February event at the David M. Brown Arlington Planetarium was titled “Four Thousand Years of Women in Science.”
The featured speaker was Dr. Sethane Howard. Dr. Howard earned her Ph.D. in Astronomy from Georgia State University, where her thesis project studied the structure of the Whirlpool Galaxy, which is also known as M51. She earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Physics from the University of California at Davis (UC-Davis). Dr. Howard was the first woman to earn a Bachelor’s Degree in Physics from UC-Davis.
Notable stops in Dr. Howard’s career were the Los Alamos National Laboratory, the Kitt Peak, Lick, and the United States Naval Observatories. Areas of her research include the study Gamma rays, planets, galaxies and stars.
In addition to research projects, Dr. Howard has authored three books chronicling women in science: The Hidden Giants, The Invisible Rabbit and the Invisible Carrot Bar, and finally, A Century of Astronomy published in the Journal of the Washington Academy of Sciences.
Dr. Howard’s discussion consisted of an historic overview of female scientists and their contributions to the world. Among them are the following:
• Hypatia, the philosopher and mathematician from the Library of Alexandria in Egypt.
• Si Ling-Chi, the legendary first empress of China who developed silk cultivation farms and the process for weaving new clothes.
• Florence Nightingale, a nurse of international reputation and a statistician who was the first person in the western world to introduce statistics into public health.
Other women of science can be found on the 4000 Years of Women in Science website. When asked why history hasn’t given more respect to these female scientists Dr. Howard replied, “Historians have done a poor job of telling the history of STEM in general.”
When asked about any challenges she faced along her educational and career paths as a female astronomer, she replied, “There were no significant hurdles or barriers as astronomy was a science that was readily accessible to women.”
Regarding being referred to as a female astronomer, she stated, “I’m not a female astronomer, I’m just an astronomer. It’s important to change our way of speaking. We have to stop designating our titles based upon sex, for example. If we designate female astronomers then we should designate male astronomers as well.” In conclusion, Dr. Howard stated, “Women have always been involved in STEM.”