The Canadian Association for Girls in Science (CAGIS) came together with the Canadian Space Agency on February 11 to celebrate the International Day of Women and Girls in Science.

CAGIS is a volunteer-based and non-profit organization that just recently established a Mississauga chapter. With 11 chapters throughout the country, CAGIS was founded by Dr. Larissa Vingilis-Jaremko when she was only nine years old.

The organization is directed at young girls from ages seven to 16 and aims to encourage them towards science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) careers. CAGIS holds events once a month and February’s event, the Junior Astronauts Challenge, was held at the University of Toronto Mississauga.

The event began with a speech from Iqra Khalid, the Member of Parliament for Mississauga-Erin Mills.

“Young women in STEM, our federal government, our Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, loves you guys. Our government loves you guys,” said Khalid. “That is because you guys are the future of our country and our planet and we want to make sure that you have each and every opportunity that you need to be able to succeed and to do well.”

“So, whether it’s learning how to code, or whether it’s to go into engineering or to be a mathematician or to any of the STEM fields, it’s really important that you are able to achieve all that you desire to do bigger and better things for this wonderful country and for this wonderful planet,” added Khalid.

Urfa Arain, a Ph.D. candidate in neuroscience at UTM, is the coordinator of CAGIS’ Mississauga chapter and gave a speech introducing CAGIS and its objectives.

“We provide opportunities in different areas across STEM, and we allow you by being the bridge between the professions and you,” said Arain.

“In November, I had the honor of having a lot of young girls like yourselves come to my lab, and they learned about fruit flies,” continued Arain. “So, they learned about what we do as Ph.D. students and why we study tiny little fruit flies.”

Dr. Bhairavi Shankar, the CEO and founder of Indus Space, is a space scientist who explores planetary surfaces through satellite data. Dr. Shankar’s speech began with a discussion focused on female astronauts, highlighting the Governor-General, Julie Payette, and Dr. Roberta Bondar, the first Canadian woman in space.

Dr. Shankar also presented a special video from Dr. Jenni Sidey-Gibbons, who is in the current class of Canadian astronauts and is training at the Johnson Space Centre in Houston, Texas.

“So, when I was growing up, I was very fortunate to benefit from an amazing role model that we have here in Canada, Dr. Roberta Bondar, who is Canada’s first female astronaut,” said Dr. Sidey-Gibbons.

“She flew in space when I was only a few years old and she inspired me to discover new things, explore, and really take advantage of the amazing opportunities that I have as a Canadian both on this planet and beyond it,” continued Dr. Sidey-Gibbons.

After the video was over, Dr. Shankar started the Junior Astronauts Challenge which is a set of interactive activities designed to both engage the young participants and educate them about the different aspects of being an astronaut.

In an interview with The Medium, Dr. Shankar stated that she supports CAGIS and its objectives.

“I highly applaud and resonate with what their mission is in trying to engage girls as soon as possible to learn about the STEM fields and get to experience it in quite a hands-on approach,” said Dr. Shankar.

Dr. Shankar also stated that, as a woman in STEM, she has often faced challenges to being in a male-dominated field.

“I was often the only girl in my cohort, and often the only girl of color in my own cohort,” said Dr. Shankar. “So, while it wasn’t something that I constantly thought about, it was something I did observe and notice through that entire journey.”

The Medium interviewed the coordinator of CAGIS’ Mississauga chapter, Urfa Arain, and discussed her motivations in becoming a part of this organization.

“They [CAGIS] were lacking a chapter in Mississauga and so myself and a bunch of graduate students on campus decided that it would be great if we can bring this chapter to Mississauga because we have a very active community here with a lot of young people who might be interested in pursuing careers in science,” said Arain.

“If I was to meet a curious girl in Mississauga who was like, ‘I’m kind of interested in science but I don’t know’ I’d be like ‘join because you never know where you’ll find your future and your passion’ and these opportunities will be huge memorable moments for you, and whatever path you choose in the future,” continued Arain.

When asked about her hopes for the outcome of tonight’s event, Arain stated that she wishes the young girls are inspired by the presentations and the activities they took part in.

“Tonight, I hope that these girls can walk away learning something new and learning something that propels their passions and their interests and inspires them,” concluded Arain.

The Medium also spoke with Amna, a ten-year-old member of CAGIS, who has been participating in their events for the past year and wants to pursue a career in chemistry in the future.

“My friend’s mom told my mom about it and then I thought it was interesting because I want to be a scientist when I grow up and science is like one of my favorite subjects so, I thought it would be like very fun,” said Amna.

Amna went on to state that she would recommend young girls interested in science to also take part in CAGIS events and that she has enjoyed all of the events she has taken part in so far.

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