Encouraging women in science

York Vice-President Academic Sheila Embleton says there is a “leak in the academic pipeline” between third and fourth year for women in science.

“So often, when one looks at an applicant pool for a tenure-stream job,” says Embleton, “one bemoans the lack of female applicants in the pool. But the real problem is that there may not be enough females going into graduate work in the area.”

To encourage more women to consider a career of science study, research and teaching, Embleton has made a personal gift of $25,000 to the York University Foundation for the creation of The Embleton Award.

Left: Sheila Embleton (seated) with Gillian Wu

Embleton’s gift of $25,000 will receive dollar-for-dollar matching by the government of Ontario through the Ontario Student Opportunities Trust Fund (OSOTF) to create a permanent $50,000 endowment.

Once fully endowed by May 2006, the award will provide support to one or two female students majoring in physics, chemistry, astronomy or engineering physics, who have completed 84 credits, have financial need and have a record of outstanding academic performance.

“This is exciting support, particularly for two areas of science in which female student enrolments have stalled around 25 per cent of the total, and quickly drop off after third year,” said Gillian Wu, dean of the Faculty of Pure & Applied Science, at an event held to celebrate Embleton’s gift. “We are very grateful for this award. It sends a clear message to female students that the University is betting on their success.”

Paul Marcus, president and CEO of the York University Foundation, applauded Embleton’s decision to take advantage of the OSOTF program, a limited-time offer that provides one-to-one matching of donations to student financial assistance.

“Your gift is not only smart philanthropy, it will also attract the best students to York,” he said. “You have obviously given this gift a great deal of thought, and it is very meaningful to you and the University. Thank you for setting such a terrific example for the York community.”


Above: Sheila Embleton (seated), second row (from left): Joel Porter and Jacline Nyman of the York University Foundation,  biology Professor Dawn Bazely, Gillian Wu, Imogen Coe and Paul Marcus

A distinguished academic and administrator, and a York donor, Embleton has been involved with various equity issues in employment at York since the 1980s, and sees inequities in the sciences between males and females beginning as early as grade school.

“Little girls are just as interested in science as little boys,” Embleton said. “But by about grade 10, girls start to drift away from science due to a lack of female science teachers as role models and mentors.”

Embleton’s parents are both scientists with PhDs – her mother a chemist, her father a physicist. Both have always been strong supporters of women in the field.

“There weren’t too many women with PhDs in chemistry or physics in 1952,” Embleton said. “So that explains the choice of fields for this award. Women need encouragement, and I have a family connection to these fields.”

In her remarks, York science Professor Imogen Coe, one of four core female faculty members of Science Women at York (SWAY), mentioned a “defining moment” for women contemplating post-graduate science education.

“This moment often takes place between third and fourth year, at which point something happens that either encourages or discourages a female student from continuing,” said Coe. “I hope this award is that defining moment for some women, pushing them to achieve their potential. This is a significant step for all women in science.”

Carrie Brodi, communications officer with the York University Foundation, sent this article to YFile.