This International Women’s Day (March 8, 2018), Scientists in School joins thousands in the global push for gender equality. To honour this important day, we’re celebrating our science workshop presenters. Through their important work and accomplishments across various fields, many presenters at Scientists in School have defied gender stereotypes and misconceptions about women in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). Today, we’re shining the spotlight on one of our fantastic presenters, Melanie Croft-White.
After she completed her Master of Science at McMaster University studying coastal wetlands of the Great Lakes, Melanie Croft-White worked in environmental biology for a number of organizations. Over the course of her impressive career in STEM, Melanie brought her passion and inquisitive nature to Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada as a Lab Technician, Gartner Lee Limited as an Environmental Consultant, the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources as a field biologist, and the Toronto Region Conservation Authority as an Aquatic Biologist. Today, when Melanie is not in classrooms presenting Scientists in School workshops to enthusiastic youth, she does contract work for Environment Canada where she analyzed Lake Ontario wetland water quality data. Published in 2017 in the Journal of Great Lakes Research, her paper, “A Shoreline Divided: Twelve-year water quality and land cover trends in Lake Ontario coastal wetlands,” highlights that water quality has improved slightly despite the fact that urbanization has increased.
For the past three years, Melanie has brought her passion for environmental biology and inspiring the next generation to Scientists in School workshops including Classy Critters, Fluid Power and Don’t Take Rocks for Granite.
We chatted with Melanie to learn more about what drew her to a career in STEM and how we can encourage girls to pursue STEM.
What made you choose your field and what do you love about it?
I was always interested in science and nature. As a kid I had a collection of rocks, bird nests, shells and other cool things in a cupboard in my bedroom. I still have a cool collection, only now I can share my passion with students in classrooms. The thing I love about doing research is that I get to be a detective. First, I collect my clues out in the field. I get to travel to wetlands by truck, boat, canoe, and even helicopters or airplanes. Then, I bring my samples and data back and figure out what the ecosystem is like at that wetland and how it compares to others.
Is there someone who inspired you to go in to STEM?
My parents encouraged my love of nature and discovery. They asked lots of questions and let me ask lots of questions, too. My other role model was David Suzuki. He wrote a series of science books for kids. I remember doing lots of experiments from those books.
What is something you wish you knew about STEM when you were a kid?
When I started my biology degree at university I didn’t really know about the thousands of careers that are related to STEM. I took biology because I thought it was fascinating. I was lucky to be involved in the co-op program at university which gave me the opportunity to try a bunch of different jobs in the field of biology. It was because of my co-op jobs that I decided to pursue ecology and environmental biology. I also made lots of connections at my co-op jobs that led to more opportunities after university.
Should parents, teachers and STEM role models encourage girls to pursue STEM? Why?
Absolutely. The core of being a scientist is being able to ask good questions. Questioning the world around us is how we advance our knowledge and make the world a better place.
How has being a woman in STEM influenced or impacted your career, if at all?
I don’t think being a woman has influenced or impacted my career. I go out and do my job, like any scientist, of any gender. I did my Master of Science in a lab with a female professor (Pat Chow-Fraser). Being a female scientist was not an unusual thing to me.
When kids meet STEM role models who are like them, how does it impact them, if at all?
When kids see someone in STEM that looks like their mom, aunt, or neighbour, it makes being a scientist seem like something that they could do. It encourages them to think: If they can do it, why can’t I?