Vibrant orange statues are on display in the museums and gardens of the Smithsonian Institution this month. Each depicts a life-size 3D-printed model of a female scientist. Many of the women are also in Washington, DC to kick off the exhibit. They represent all career levels, from students to professors and CEOs. Diverse STEM fields include shark researcher, toy maker, video game developer, and aerospace engineer. The statues include artists, inventors, and investors. If these don’t sound like your typical scientist, that’s exactly the point. Highlighting a broad range of jobs encourages the next generation to continue studying science and apply it to any topic they’re passionate about.
The goal of the #IfThenSheCan exhibit is to show girls what scientists look like using 120 diverse examples. Though women make up half of college graduates, they represent less than 30 percent of STEM professionals. And only eight percent of statues in the United States are of women. The AAAS (American Association for the Advancement of Science) and Lyda Hill Philanthropies run the IF/THEN ambassador program. The name comes from the mantra “IF she can see it, THEN she can be it.” Providing funding and resources to elevate female scientists fulfills the goal of “IF we support a woman in STEM, THEN she can change the world.”
Dr. Beata Mierzwa
Dr. Beata Mierzwa is a molecular biologist, artist, and fashion designer. “The exhibit is one of the coolest things that has happened to me in my life,” she tells Nerdist. “Seeing a life-sized statue of myself among all of these amazing women is something I still can’t quite believe!” She conducts and publishes research while also designing artistic journal covers, beautiful clothing, and even SpaceX mission patches! As part of the program, Mierzwa created the science video game Microscopya to highlight the wonders of living cells.
Mierzwa is a STEAM superstar, adding “art” into STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math). “Though I always loved both art and science, I didn’t have a role model when I was younger to demonstrate that combining them was a possibility. It took me until partway through my PhD to realize that I can pursue both,” she says.
Dr. Claire Meaders
Dr. Claire Meaders teaches college biology. It’s important to her to ensure students don’t get intimidated by their experience with undergraduate science courses. She works with other ambassadors and her students on science outreach projects. “I love that this program has had a ripple effect on sparking so many collaborations,” she says. “I’ve never been a part of anything like this that is both uplifting the next generation of scientists but also uplifting for us. Getting to know the community of women has been so impactful.”
Both Claire and Beata participated in the “STEAM Superstars” panel at Comic-Con Special Edition in November 2021. The crowd included kids eager to ask questions of the six panelists, all female scientists. “I wish I’d had role models like these women when I was a student and been exposed to so many different pathways in STEM from an earlier age,” says Meaders.
Women’s Futures Month
March is Women’s History Month, sometimes called Herstory Month and in the case of the Smithsonian Institution, Women’s Futures Month. “IfThenSheCan – The Exhibit is on display across the Smithsonian museums and gardens March 5-27, 2022. “The exhibit is a fantastic opportunity to highlight the diversity among women in STEM, challenge outdated stereotypes, and paint a more inclusive picture of what it means to be a scientist,” says Mierzwa. “Every interaction, no matter how small, can plant a seed that will grow and shape future career choices in the decades to come.”