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ODU Students Create Online Map that Highlights Virginia Women’s STEM Contributions

By Amy Matzke-Fawcett

A group of Old Dominion University students has collaborated to map Virginia's women in STEM, creating an online resource to track the commonwealth's impacts.

The fall semester's women in technology class, taught by Ruth Osorio, created a map with pinned entries detailing the contributions of women in Virginia to the science, technology, engineering and math fields.

Osorio has taught the class previously, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic this fall's class was asynchronous online for the first time. That led Osorio to rethink the way students could collaborate in a meaningful way. Each semester the students read the book "Hidden Figures," which centers on four black women in Hampton Roads who helped launch the United States into space. But this semester, Osorio wanted to expand the reach of the class into a public project.

The map included many Black and Native women who were influential in their fields but may not have gotten recognition for their work. The map also included women who were not directly working in STEM, but educators and others who "created pathways for STEM."

"I'm hoping that Virginians of any age will check out the map and see the ways women in STEM made the world better," Osorio said.

The class is open to all undergraduates, so the figures highlighted represented a variety of interests that often aligned with the students' majors and areas of interest. As part of the class, students wrote reflections on what they'd learned.

Deanna Stevens, a junior in counseling and human services, said she hopes the public will view the map and learn about each person featured.

"They all deserved to be recognized just as much as any other person," Stevens said. "I also hope that this gives motivation to young girls who think they can't accomplish big dreams because they were told 'girls or women can't do certain things.'"

Nyah Levine, a junior studying psychology, wrote: "By researching and learning about the lived experiences of the hidden figures in the STEM community, one can also learn about the history and suppression of women and minorities, and how it continues to shape how the world views its people and technology. ... My hope is that maps like this can give young women and minorities hope and encouragement, as they can see people like themselves leave marks in history."

Osorio plans to have subsequent classes add more women to the map, which is publicly available at Virginian Women in STEM.

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