Women in STEM event climbs to new heights

Alison Criscitiello is no stranger to challenging climbs.

The ice core scientist and Executive and Academic Director of the Canadian Ice Core Lab has traversed many mountains, overcoming the risks that come along with high altitudes and perilous ice conditions.

But on the ground, far from the peak, there remains a different kind of mountain Criscitiello hopes to help the next generation scale.

One of several expert speakers at last week’s Women in STEM event at Brock University, Criscitiello strives to inspire and encourage women to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics — no matter how intimidating the path may at first seem.

“I try to never say no to women in STEM events because they are so incredibly important,” she said, while emphasizing the need to support those experiencing challenges with equality in their academic or professional careers. “We see the positive effect and self-confidence women gain from knowing someone like them attained their goals and went through similar experiences.”

Criscitiello is a professional high-altitude climber and a former U.S. Climbing Ranger and mountain guide. Her talk explored her ice core research and career journey.

“People want to know they earned their roles because they were the right candidate for the job or program,” she said. “I hope I’m an example that it’s possible even in historically male-dominated environments.”

For Lauren Nesbitt, a Master of Science candidate in Brock’s Department of Biological Sciences, attending Women in STEM was a valuable opportunity to make connections and learn about new research avenues.

Nesbitt found her own research on fire history in the Northwest Territories showed interesting parallels to the ice core science Criscitiello conducts.

“It’s powerful hearing how others have navigated their schooling and knowing that what I experience throughout academia is normal,” she said.

Nesbitt feels that balancing research and personal life can be tough, and that many people experience a sense of guilt when their focus is not on academic work 100 per cent of the time.

“By going to these STEM events and hearing more experienced individuals talk about their journey, undergraduate and graduate students can start to see that it’s important to balance work and personal life,” she said.

This year’s Women in STEM initiative welcomed 269 attendees to 10 online and in-person sessions held Feb. 6 to 10. The event was made possible by eight external speakers, eight faculty members, seven Brock staff members and 29 graduate student volunteers who came together to make it a success.

Now in its fourth year, the event has attracted and supported more than 1,000 participants, helping to highlight and discuss issues facing women across the globe.

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