Inspired by her work with middle school girls, Ann Marie Macara, a graduate student in her fifth year at the University, designed an exhibit at the University’s Museum of Natural History titled, “Women in Science.”
Macara started her work with young girls in a “S.T.E.M.” program, which stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. She said she chose to aim the exhibit towards a younger age group because she wants to show that science can be fun, and that anyone can do it.
With the help of graphics artist Alyssa Cates and illustrator Greg Carter, Macara designed the exhibit to have a comic book feel. Four women are featured in the exhibit, each having their own comic book panel. Each of these women represents a category of “S.T.E.M.,” and Macara said she sought to find women who represented a diverse group of women. They chose the comic book style to appeal to their target audience, young children.
The exhibit is sponsored by the Rackham Graduate School, the University Life Sciences Institute, a MAAS Professional Development Award, the Program in Biomedical Science, the Department of Cellular, Molecular and Developmental Biology, The Women in Science and Engineering, FEMMES and a CEW Riecker Graduate Student Research Grant.
In an e-mail interview with The Michigan Daily, Carter explained the interactive nature of the exhibit.
“I’ve been creating illustrations for 5 panels for the exhibition,” he said. “The first panel acts as a ‘front cover’ for the whole exhibition while the other 4 panels explain the stories behind the women in science. I also modified the images to allow them to be produced as life sized cut outs, so they can be used to help advertise the event, but also allow the children to take photos with the characters.”
The first of Carter’s panels features Mary Anning. Representing science, she is credited with discovering multiple fossils from the Jurassic Period. She lived in the 1800s and made these discoveries as a young woman.
Representing technology is Annie Easley, who was considered a ‘human computer’ for NASA, meaning she developed and sent codes for the program. She carried on to later develop software for rockets.
The third woman is Sarah Goode, who represents engineering and received a patent for the development of her folding cabinet bed.
Last is Wang Zhenyi, who represents mathematics for her mathematical models about astronomical events like eclipses.
Macara said in choosing these four women, she selected them meticulously, picking them based on diversity and underrepresentation throughout history.
“I chose your unlikely women in science candidates. These women are women you probably haven’t heard about. Women in science has actually been a really popular thing to talk about recently, so I wanted to take that but take it with a twist,” she said.
Carter wrote learning about these women was exciting for him, and one of his favorite parts of illustrating the project.
“It was really interesting to research and then have to create images related to the different time periods they were all from,” he said. “I’ve never really done a project like this so it was fun to step out of my comfort zone and create something that’s fun but also educational.”
In a similar way, Cates said she wants the exhibit to make science seem fun for the audience. However, she said displaying these particular women opens up a discussion about overcoming gender-based discrimination.
“I think highlighting these people who were from a time when women were very overtly discriminated against, and showing that they were able to be successful, is a very strong message for girls who might be considering going into the field today,” she said.
Both Macara and Cates acknowledged underlying sexism in the fields featured in this exhibit, but Macara said she thinks it exists in every field of study. She hopes these women will inspire young girls and boys to pursue their passion while displaying how exciting science can be.
“It’s a struggle not only for women in science but in all the different fields,” Macara said. “I want to broaden people’s understanding of women and their role in the workplace.”