Members of the Athens community are working to close the gender gap in science. Avid Bookshop is teaming up with Strong Girls on Sept. 8 to present Atlanta-based Shelli R. Johannes, co-author of the children’s book “Cece Loves Science,” and a panel of women who work in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math, also known as STEM.
Johannes’ new children’s book, co-written by Kimberly Derting, was released June 19. The book tells the story of young Cece, who sets out on quest to answer a burning question: Do dogs eat vegetables?
Johannes got inspiration for her book when her now-14-year-old daughter didn’t want to go to science camp when she was 9 years old — she thought “science [was] for boys.”
"Girls need to be encouraged in the science and technology industries, and any opportunity we have to highlight a female author is great.”
- Rachel Watkins, Avid Bookshop
“We have these books that teach girls to wear pink and be fancy, but we don’t have any books that encourage young girls to love science,” Johannes said.
According to its mission statement, Strong Girls is a local organization that promotes empowerment in young girls through events and activities that aim to instill confidence in its members.
“We really love what the organization Strong Girls does,” said Avid Bookshop communications and interim events director Rachel Watkins. “We always want to do things that help girls realize that they can be anything they want to be.”
Avid Bookshop and the University of Georgia Student Government Association (SGA) have hosted events together in the past, including a celebration of photographer and author Kate Parker’s book “Strong Is the New Pretty: A Celebration of Girls Being Themselves” in 2017.
“[Avid] is always trying to give voice to people who don’t have enough agency,” Watkins said. “Girls need to be encouraged in the science and technology industries, and any opportunity we have to highlight a female author is great.”
Watkins, who will act as moderator, said she hopes to first talk about Johannes’ book and then move onto the STEM panel and questions from the audience.
The panel of women will include Kimberly Klonowski, an associate professor at the UGA Department of Cellular Biology, Barbara Del Castello, a third-year doctoral student at the Genetics Department and president of Women in Science UGA, and Karen Sweeney Gerow, founder of Double Helix STEAM School.
“Women in Science does a lot of community outreach, so this really fits in with our goals as an organization to reach out to the community and inspire the next generation of scientists,” Del Castello said.
Klonowski hopes that the presentation at Avid will not only spark an interest in science amongst children, but also bring attention to the larger discrepancies between women and men in scientific careers and higher education.
“We’re trying to get kids excited about science, just looking at it from a different lens. Science isn’t a subject in school — science is all around us.”
- Shelli R. Johannes, co-author
“I love getting students into science, but I think, at the same time, once you get to a point where you’re in college and beyond, it starts to become a little more [real] in terms of what is available to you as a woman,” Klonowski said. “I think we’re doing a great job in terms of getting women into science, but I think that we also have to think about … how we are going to support women in science once they’re involved.”
According to a report released by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization Institute for Statistics, women are a minority in scientific fields. Women account for 32 percent of researchers in North America and Western Europe, and 28.8 percent of researchers globally.
According to the UNESCO-UIS report, this disproportionate amount of women in science is due to a number of factors, including stereotypes, familial obligations and career biases faced by women.
“It’s a big bottleneck,” Klonowski said. “[Women] will get their degree, and then after that, it kind of fizzles out in terms of women who are professors.”
Klonowski feels that a solution to this discrepancy is for universities to better support women in science, especially women with children, through daycare facilities, health benefits and professional development. She said encouraging younger generations to become curious and empathize through reading is also very important.
“This all comes down to reading and books,” Klonowski said. “Reading in many ways is a gateway to things people experience in their lives.
Johannes hopes her book is able to provide children with an alternate perspective of science.
“We’re trying to get kids excited about science, just looking at it from a different lens,” Johannes said. “Science isn’t a subject in school — science is all around us.”