Women Supporting Women in Science


By Jill Kathleen Wenderott

Women Supporting Women in the Sciences (WS2), an international organization unifying and supporting graduate and professional-level women and allies in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), has recently been awarded an American Physical Society (APS) Innovation Fund to form international teams that will design and distribute low-cost physics and materials science lab kits to 5000 elementary and secondary school students, predominantly in eastern Africa. These teams will work with WS2 Partners in eastern Africa who wish to participate in outreach delivering and teaching these science lab kits to their local communities.

The origin of WS2 can be traced to an intensive two-week-long live-in program of the Joint Undertaking for an African Materials Institute (JUAMI) held in Arusha, Tanzania (TZ), in 2016. JUAMI was co-founded by Sossina Haile, African Academy of Sciences Fellow and the Walter P. Murphy Professor of Materials Science and Engineering at Northwestern University (Evanston, IL, USA). The JUAMI live-in programs bring together researchers in materials science and engineering from the US and Africa, as well as other countries, to build connections to tackle 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 that create proposals for work to outlive the two weeks.

“My group called itself ‘Team Ushirikiano’ because it aimed to create an international research and mentoring partnerships through a matching program,” said Jill Wenderott, co-founder of WS2. “Ultimately, our idea didn’t take off, but JUAMI connected me with Joyce Elisadiki, and WS2 was born.” In conversations that followed their meeting at JUAMI, Wenderott, and Elisadiki, both graduate students at the time, discussed ways in which they could share resources and work together to support women in STEM globally. Their first collaborative venture involved graduate students and postdoctoral scholars from Northwestern University and several institutions in TZ (Nelson Mandela African Institution of Science and Technology – NM-AIST, University of Dodoma, University of Dar es Salaam, Sokoine University of Agriculture) meeting virtually to create low-cost professional development workshops that promoted the organization of women and allies in STEM, as well as setting career goals. These workshops are currently being taught by women STEM graduate students and professionals in TZ to spur the advancement of women as STEM mentors (see photos).

Since the creation of the workshops concluding in late 2019, WS2 has expanded its efforts to include outreach to young girls and boys, further enabled by receiving the APS Innovation Fund in late 2020. “The funding from APS is very exciting, as it allows us to undertake the ambitious agenda of creating low-cost lab kits that prioritize local resources, while at the same time motivating young girls to participate in hands-on activities that are key for STEM subjects,” said Elisadiki, co-founder of WS2 and currently a lecturer in the Department of Physics at the University Dodoma. Virtual international teams will form to design the labs throughout the remainder of 2021. These labs focused on areas of physics and materials science will be developed for elementary- and secondary school students with the intention of being especially relevant to women and girls. The lab manuals developed will be provided at no cost on the WS2 website, and specific funding exists to provide full lab kits to our WS2 Partners in eastern Africa.

Want to get involved with the WS2 lab kit initiative? WS2 is seeking Lab Design Team Members to participate in the creation of the low-cost physics and materials science labs. Team members may be undergraduate students, graduate students, professors, teachers, or professionals from anywhere in the world with a commitment to designing and/or teaching physics and materials science concepts to students. A background in physics, materials science, or education is not required but will be helpful. Applications for the Lab Design Teams should be submitted through our website (https://ws2global.org/lab-kits) by April 6th, 2021 (extended deadline!). Due to the unpredictability of COVID-19, all team meetings will be held virtually. In-person lab instruction is tentatively scheduled for 2022, depending on the guidance of global health experts.

WS2 is sponsored by the APS Innovation Fund, Northwestern University Materials Research Science and Engineering Center, and Northwestern University Multicultural Student Affairs.

You may also read these articles