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Women In STEM Exhibition Opening Tomorrow

In an era of instant photographic gratification, it may seem a little odd for a digital portrait exhibition to take months to come together, but Otago Museum’s upcoming exhibition 100 women, 100 words… infinite possibilities is more than just a collection of Insta-worthy snaps. Far more.

Designed with the intent to help improve the gender gap that exists for women participating in many areas of science, technology, engineering, and maths (STEM) study and careers, this exhibition will challenge unconscious biases about who or what a scientist or engineer looks like. In doing so, we hope it will progress normalising women as role models in STEM for everyone, regardless of gender.

“Many other initiatives focus mainly on inspiring young girls to pursue careers in STEM,” project coordinator Jessa Barder says. “And while we definitely want young girls to see what is possible for them, the latest research shows we need to go further and show not only young girls but all young people that women can be role models in STEM. And, because Otago Museum is a place for families, we are uniquely positioned to reach this wider audience.”

The subjects featured in this exhibition were nominated for the honour through a crowd-sourcing campaign throughout Southland and Otago that took place in May. Despite the country being in COVID-19 lockdown at that time, the response was overwhelming, with over three hundred women and girls nominated. Of these, 100 participants were eventually chosen by the selection committee to feature in the exhibition.

“I want to make it clear that we realize this exhibition is only scratching the surface,” Jessa continues. “There are so many amazing role models for young people in our communities – and they’ve all taken different paths, had different challenges… I can guarantee there is someone featured in this exhibition whose story you can relate to and be inspired by. ”

Each portrait is accompanied by one hundred of the subject’s own words responding to the prompt: “What has been most surprising or unexpected about your specific experience in your STEM field?”

“Without a doubt, that has been the thing participants have said was the hardest part of being in the exhibition,” Jessa says, “But the range of answers we got confirms it was the right question to ask. They really speak to the diversity of motivations, pathways, and stories that made their journey in science their own.”

The exhibition opens to the public on Saturday 5 December and will run until 28 February 2021. It will then be taken on a tour to communities in, North Otago Central Otago and Southland.

The exhibition is part of the larger Full STE(a)M Ahead project, for which Otago Museum received funding from MBIE’s Unlocking Curious Minds fund. Together with the Dodd-Walls Centre and the MacDiarmid Institute, Otago Museum will also be hosting a number of workshops and a Women in Science Expo in Term 1 for intermediate and secondary school students to help inspire them to explore a future in STEM and build connections between the young people in our community and some of the amazing southern women in STEM.

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