A Memorable Meeting of Women Scientists at the White House
By Dr. Robina Shaheen
University of California
San Diego

A long queue of teens and adults in front of me anxiously awaited registration to enter the White House. The security guards were scanning the lists and dishing out name badges with a smile. Three copper toned medallions, representing Equality (face of a man and woman), seal of the US and face of the Columbia, caught my attention and reminded me of the very foundation of this country based on justice and equality. On a beautiful sunny day, the reflection of sunrays from the glittering bronze statue atop the capitol building reminiscent of the American symbol of liberty - Columbia and now called lady liberty - symbolizing independence, peace and victory added another layer of excitement that there cannot be a better place for a meeting like this.

‘Changing Mindsets to Promote Women and Girls in Science’ was organized by Dr. Kerri Ann Jones, Assistant Secretary of State, Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs (BOIESA), and Dr. Sharon Hrynkow, Senior Advisor to the Secretary of State, and Ambassador Ufuk Gokcen, OIC Permanent Representative to the United Nations, in response to the United States commitment at the 55 th session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) of the United Nations in March 2011. It provided the much needed platform to gain insight of various measures that have been taken so far in the US to empower women in the field of Science and Technology. The panel consisted of rock stars of science representing all walks of life: Dr. Sherburne Abbot, Associate Director for Environment, Office of Science and Technology Policy, Executive Office of the President; Dr. Marcia K. MacNutt, Director US Geological Survey, Dept. of the Interior; Dr. Margaret Hamburg, Commissioner, Food and Drug Administration, Dept. of Health and Human Services; Dr. Cora B. Marett, Deputy Director, National Science Foundation; Dr. Machi Dilworth, Director Office of International Science and Engineering, National Science Foundation; Dr. Sharon Hrynkow, Senior Advisor to the Assistant Secretary, OES, USDS and participants representing African countries, Middle East, India, Brazil and Organization of Islamic Countries Standing Committee on Science & Technology along with students from Thomas Jefferson High School.

Accounts of perseverance and resolve of women astronauts Dr. Kathryn Sullivan and Dr. Barbara Morgan inspired me to rethink that the “sky is not the limit;” they will continue to inspire many others to pursue their goals by overcoming challenges in their own societies and cultures. Fruitful discussions with senior members of government organization (Dr. Shirley Malcom, Head Directorate for Education and Human Resource Program, American Association for the Advancement of Science; Dr. Janine Clayton, Deputy Director, Office of Research on Women’s Health, National Institute of Health; Dr. Kelly Mack, ADVANCE Program Director, National Science Foundation; Dr. S. Blumenthal, Director of the Health and Medicine Program, Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress), private sectors (google), and non-governmental organizations (AWIS, Change the Equation, RAISE, Novice) were very useful and provided an overview of various practices and innovative policies in place to recruit, retain and empower women with entrepreneurships in basic and applied science at all levels.

Women make up more than half of the population on the planet, therefore, participation of women in Science and Technology is essential to forge ahead in today’s tech-savvy world, emphasized Drs. Melanne Verveer, Ambassador for Global Women’s issue, USDS; Dr. Kerri-Ann Jones, Assistant Secretary of State and Sherburne Abbott, Associate Director of Environment, Office of Science and Technology Policy, Executive Office of the President. I also had the pleasure to meet with Dr. Danna J Dones, AWIS President and author.

The decision to represent women in science was conveyed to me by Prof Atta-ur-Rahman, Coordinator General of COMSTECH, (OIC Ministerial Committee comprising 57 OIC Ministers of Science and Technology). Prof. Atta-ur-Rahman’s dedication and effusive energy to upscale the educational system in Pakistan as Federal Minister for Science and Technology has been acknowledged by Science (weekly magazine on the ground-breaking discoveries in science and society). In recognition of his valuable contribution in the field of science and higher education within Pakistan and abroad, UNESCO recently selected him to vitalize its worldwide efforts in science, technology and innovation, in particular to address common challenges facing Third World countries in the 21st Century. He believes that women’s education is vital for the prosperity of a nation and collaboration with US institutes of higher education and NGO’s may help to chart out new avenues of educating young girls in Third World countries.

To sum up my experiences at the meeting, I would like to quote Joseph Priestley’s statement when he met Benjamin Franklin, Collin and Rice at London’s tea house (1772) for the preparation of the manuscript of his book on the history of science and electricity. “The time I had the pleasure to spend in the company of these eminent scholars appears in review like a pleasing dream and I ardently wish a repetition of it”.





Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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