Raising the voices of science

    After five years developing and delivering programs for young aboriginal students with WISEST, Jen Duffy has recently moved to Toronto to begin working with the Jane Goodall Institute of Canada.

    By Kristy Condon on January 14, 2015

    When asked to name notable women in science, most people can cite only two: Marie Curie and Jane Goodall. Jen Duffy (’98 BSc, ’02 MSc, ’10 BEd), ambassador for diversity in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) education, is working to change that.

    “Science is strengthened by engaging and empowering those with perspectives that are underrepresented in it,” says Duffy—words she lives by, from her work coordinating aboriginal outreach programs at the U of A with WISEST (Women In Scholarship, Engineering, Science and Technology), to her newest role as education manager with the Jane Goodall Institute of Canada (JGI Canada).

    She dreams of a future where everyone can find equal opportunities in science education. “I believe we tend to still spend too much time talking about the situation—showing the stats, lamenting the challenges,” she says. “While these are all very useful in terms of background, it is time to start making changes.”

    And make changes, she has. During her time with WISEST, Duffy established “Tales from the Science Buffalo”, a program honouring Aboriginal Ways of Knowing in touring science programs to sixth-grade classrooms in Fort Chipewyan and Anzac. “Having students in these communities learn to love doing science—and then tell me they want to be paleontologists, mechanical engineers, or astronauts was absolutely fantastic,” she says.

    Building on her experience with “Science Buffalo”, Duffy went on to develop “Providing Safe Passage to Knowing”, an educator workshop designed to equip teachers with practical ways to honour Aboriginal perspectives in their science classrooms.

    A three-time grad from the U of A, Duffy has always been fascinated with the diversity of the natural world. She describes herself as “the kid who brought frogs and turtles home to my backyard and who dissected my fish when they died,” and she’s taken this fascination along with her—celebrating diversity, in people and in the wonderful world around them.

    Her new role at the JGI Canada gives her a venue to educate and inspire people to live more sustainably. “I probably won’t reach all of humanity in my first year,” she says, “but I will be inspiring and equipping Canadian educators to cultivate a generation of change agents.”

    Although admitting she has had so many mentors she wouldn’t know where to start, Duffy names Margaret-Ann Armour, founder of WISEST and Associate Dean of Diversity for the Faculty of Science, and Maria Klawe, president of Harvey Mudd College and fellow U of A science alumna, as two women who continue to lead the way for women in science today. “The best teachers let me believe I can be anything I want to be no matter where I come from or what sex I happen to be, which is a value I try to instill in all students that cross my path.”

    Jenn Duffy's words of advice:

    • Don't believe anyone who tries to tell you that you can't! You have a perspective that is currently underrepresented, and that makes you very valuable.
    • Spend as much time outside as you can. Rekindle your relationship with the land. Live with the Earth, not just upon it!
    • Travel. The world is bfull of awe, wonder and perspectives other than your own so get out there and be open to its lessons.