Dr. Jenn Jakobi is a scientist, a teacher and a mentor. Her work focuses on neuromuscular and exercise physiology with the long-term objective of keeping our aging population healthy and independent.
Part of Dr. Jakobi’s passion and commitment to research is sharing knowledge and creating opportunities for everyone to learn. She and her team of students and staff, in the School of Health and Exercise Sciences, produce written articles and guides, as well as videos and podcasts, making sure the science conducted in university labs gets into the living rooms of everyday Canadians.
Beyond science translation, Dr. Jakobi has another passion. She is committed to increasing diversity across science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) programs. She coordinates and hosts youth outreach camps and activities, and conducts professional development workshops to enable organizational change that will build equity, diversity and inclusion changes in STEM enterprises.
This month, Dr. Jakobi takes on a new role as the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada Chair for Women in Science and Engineering for the British Columbia/Yukon region. This Westcoast Women in Engineering Science and Technology (WWEST) program mobilizes her leadership to roles that encourage, explore, understand and empower change for underrepresented people in STEM.
Your initiative, the integrative STEM Team Advancing Networks of Diversity (iSTAND) Program, continues to grow at UBCO. Can you tell us about this program and how it relates to your new role?
iSTAND developed as a project I started in 2014. I saw a need to engage youth in hands-on science activities and I saw resources here at UBCO that would allow for this to happen, particularly for girls. The goal was to ensure they understand how science is a part of bettering our world.
Research shows that young girls are interested in science. We just need to make a connection with them as early as possible.
I started small, by visiting classrooms and explaining how science can create a meaningful and positive difference in all our lives. This initiative grew to busloads of kids visiting campus to actively engage with classmates in neuroscience experiments. We made it relevant to real-life. The next step was summer camps and after-school programs.
These extracurricular iSTAND programs will continue. The WWEST program will use our multitude of kid-friendly experiments to produce learning modules that align with the BC curriculum to assist teachers in bringing hands-on science activities into the classroom. We are also partnering with UBCO’s Indigenous Program Services and First Nation populations across BC to assist university students to bring activities into their home communities. We will work with elders and cultural stewards to incorporate Indigenous ways of knowing and learning into the activities.
Are the programs focused only on youth?
Not at all. As a female scientist, I have always been a minority and this has led to some less than great experiences in my career. In part, the youth programs were not just about sharing the beauty and joy in science, it was about engaging more girls in science so future female scientists are not alone.
Being alone is not easy. So you build a protective shell, and loneliness hardens your shell. That is what the WWEST program works to change. Through actively partnering with like-minded organizations, we will expand our workshops and activities to build a network, so even when someone feels alone in an organization there is no loneliness. The aim is not to just increase the number of women and under-represented persons, it is to create positive cultures where participation is not an act of bravery. Rather, we aim to create a culture of inclusion for all people and perspectives.
How will you do this?
Using my training and experiences as a scientist, I will conduct research, share it and also apply it to WWEST programs. The focus of research and activities will be the positive elements that engage and keep women and under-represented persons in STEM. For example, we know family is important in encouraging and supporting career development so we developed intergenerational GRAND-STEM programs. Here we encourage parents and notably grandparents to participate with kids in STEM activities. This initiative is especially dear to me, as it aligns with my research passion and collaborative drive.
My research aims to support functional independence with increased age, and social engagement and learning for older adults are equally important for them. This initiative is also an example of the collaboration taking place on our campus. In 2019 the various groups at UBCO that engage in STEM outreach activities began working to develop a cohesive and comprehensive framework to engage with our community.
Overall WWEST will generate research and use this knowledge to create innovative programs to grow diverse and inclusive academic, industry and corporate environments.
The objective of increasing women in STEM careers is not new. How is your program different?
For decades the conversation has centred around removing barriers and obstacles, as well as developing policies and processes to support women in STEM. These were necessary and have evolved. For example, maternity leave and now parental leave have supported females in their career pursuits. This has assisted in retaining women in STEM but it hasn’t been enough.
We need to change the culture. I hope to go beyond the barriers and understand what are the good things that keep under-represented persons in STEM. Then apply these positive factors to build a rich and diverse landscape, and this positive culture includes men. We need to engage the majority to move the minority dial. There are many people who want to see more women and under-represented persons in STEM. This program will promote and celebrate the women, as well as the men who are contributing to positive change. WWEST is a comprehensive program to build a diverse and inclusive STEM landscape.