A History of Public Involvement and Advocacy

SCWIST members have served on a variety of committees or presented papers, including the Canadian Advisory Council on the Status of Women, the BC Partners in Science Awareness Committee, the Premier’s Science Advisory Committee, BC Science Council (now Innovate BC), the Women in Science, Technology, Trades and Engineering Steering Committee, and the Canadian Coalition for Women in Engineering, Science, Trades and Technology (CCWESTT). Early organizational collaborations included CAWIS, Canadian Association of Girls in Science (CAGIS), Women in Trades and Technology (WITT), Gender and Science and Technology (GASAT) BC Science Teachers Association (BCSTA).  For current involvement in advocacy, please read more here.

The First Quarter Century

In the spring of 1981, six women scientists gathered on a clematis-covered porch of a Vancouver house to plan a conference for women in science. It was here, on Maggie Benston’s front porch, where the “undaunted six”-  Mary Vickers, Hilda Ching, Abby Schwarz, Mary Jo Duncan, Diana Herbst and Maggie Benston mapped out plans to bring together women in science. “The scent of large white clematis filled the air as we sat and made our plans on the front porch.” Hilda Ching 

SCWIST was incorporated as a society on July 30, 1981. Mary Vickers, the founding president, remembers how the group “increased mightily” in its first year: “We presented eight public programs and started the first Registry of Women in Science in BC and Yukon. Our programs received positive responses that convinced us of the need for an organization like SCWIST. For example, we had a packed room when we held a panel discussion on the question, ‘Can a talented female scientist from a small town in the West find happiness and a permanent job in a scientific establishment?’’’ 

“It is appropriate and proper for women to have equal access to careers in science and technology.”

Mary Vickers

Mary Vickers, a biology instructor at Douglas College in New Westminster at the time, credits Maggie Benston with the success of the 1983 National Conference on Women in Science. 

“SCWIST members organized the first conference ever held in Canada for women in science, but it was Maggie who stimulated us. She was the ‘brains’ behind it.” Due to Maggie’s reputation, feminist scientists, including her twin sister, came as guest speakers from the United States and Europe, with over 300 participants attending. 

Following the successful SCWIST conference, and the wide response to the Proceedings of the first National Conference for Women in Science, Engineering and Technology, May 20-22, 1983, Vancouver, B.C., the Society was more certain than ever that it could help young girls and women increase their career choices through math and sciences. The belief was confirmed by the Girls in Science summer workshops, begun in 1984, which were enthusiastically received by the girls, parents, and B.C. elementary school teachers. At the same time, SCWIST members were being invited to serve on the federal government’s Canadian Advisory Council on the Status of Women. Clearly, SCWIST’s efforts were being recognized. 

A History of Awards to Women of SCWIST

SCWIST members have won:

  • Prime Minister’s Award for Teaching Excellence in Science, Technology and Math 
  • PLOYSAR Award for Excellence in Teaching 
  • Eve Savory Award for Science Communication
  • Michael Smith Award for Science Communication
  • BC Science Council Volunteer of the Year Award
  • Vancouver Volunteer of the Year Award
  • Several YWCA Women of Distinction Awards

A History of SCWIST Programs

Over the first twenty-five years since its establishment in 1981, SCWIST developed an effective and supportive network to help girls and women in their pursuit of careers in STEM. Through a variety of programs, projects, and conferences, SCWIST’s mandate has been to focus on career opportunities and employment equity for women through a widespread community outreach program. Below is a snapshot of the early collaborative efforts with many groups and women’s organizations, including an overview of programs.


SCWIST Presidents

A History of Excellence, Inspiration, Leadership and Inspiration in STEM

Mary Vickers* 1981-1983 
Betty Dwyer* 1983-1984
Hilda Ching* 1984-1986 
Marian Adair* 1986-1987 
Diana Herbst* 1987-1988
Josefina Gonzales 1988-1989 
Tasoula Berggren 1989-1990 
Penny LeCouteur* 1990-1992
Jackie Gill, 1992-1994
Hilda Ching* 1994-1995
Rosalind Kellet 1996-1997
Hiromi Matsui* 1997-1998 
Sara Swenson 1998-2000
Judy Myers 2000-2002 
Dawn McArthur 2002-2003
Stephanie Smith 2003-2005 
Amanda Smith 2005-2007  
Suzanne Ferenczi 2007-2008 
Elana Brief 2008-2010
Anna Stukas 2010-2012 
Maria Issa* 2012-2013
Rosine Hage-Moussa 2013-2014
Fariba Pacheleh 2014-2015
Christin Wiedemann 2015-2017 
Kelly Marciniw 2017-2019

*Indicates honourary member