IDEAS Initiative works to advance diversity in STEM

February 10, 2021 — Local Community
Est. 2019 at Queen’s University.

While tremendous progress has been made, a significant gender and diversity gap persists in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields. Mentorship has been well-identified as a key component of retaining the interests of and supporting underrepresented groups in STEM. Connecting young people with role models and providing mentorship opportunities is a cornerstone of the IDEAS (Innovation, Diversity, Exploration & Advancement in STEM) Initiative. 

Founded in 2019 by a group of graduate students in the department of Physics, Engineering Physics, and Astronomy at Queen’s University, this initiative came out of the desire to improve participation in physics and more broadly, to launch an offensive on sexism in the natural sciences. Originally founded as the Girls for Innovation, Research, Leadership & Science (GIRLS) Initiative, it became formally known as the IDEAS Initiative in 2021 to better promote inclusion and intersectionality.

IDEAS Initiative programming emphasizes community and values-based education, fun, fostering a love of the sciences, leadership development, individual growth, and team-based problem solving. Based out of Queen’s University, the IDEAS Initiative is a volunteer-run organization designed to coordinate activities that encourage the advancement of under-represented groups in physics. Using a two-step multi-generational approach, the Initiative aims to develop the existing Canadian STEM community, then utilize this community to foster a love and passion of the natural sciences in young people across the nation. 

A free summer camp for youth aged 11 to 14 was the flagship program to offer hands-on science activities run by leading female scientists in astronomy and physics. SNOLAB Research Scientist Dr. Erica Caden was responsible for staff training as the camp’s teaching director in the founding year of the program. “It was great to see the graduate students teaching and mentoring the younger students and to see everyone so excited about science,” said Dr. Caden. “I wish that there had been such a program when I was that age!”

GIRLS camp facilitator training at SNOLAB in 2019.

Later this month, the IDEAS Initiative is hosting Let’s Talk Astrophysics, a free 2-day online symposium, where participants will have the chance to meet and hear from astronomers before searching for the elusive dark matter using real data from a space satellite. This free program is designed for 15 to 18-year-old students across Canada in grades 11, 12, and Cégep, to explore the cosmos and learn to use advanced scientific tools with the close guidance of leading scientists. The event takes place on February 20-21 from 1-4PM, Eastern time. Find more details and register on the Let’s Talk Astrophysics event page.

The IDEAS Initiative is supported by the Queen’s University Department of Physics, Engineering Physics & Astronomy, The Arthur B. McDonald Canadian Astroparticle Physics Research Institute, SNOLAB, and The Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada. Visit the IDEAS Initiative webpage to learn more about the group, upcoming programming, and how to get involved.