By Mical Kasweka
A $200,000 scholarship promises to create more opportunities for women in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) programs at Ryerson University.
The scholarship was created following a $100,000 gift from Anju Virmani, the chief information officer at CargoJet. The gift will be matched by the President’s Awards to Champion Excellence (PACE), a scholarship program initiated for underrepresented groups at Ryerson by president and vice-chancellor Mohamed Lachemi.
The Savitri and Anju Virmani Scholarship for Women in STEM plans to create a support system for women and provide students with opportunities to meet leaders, receive mentorship opportunities and to build their networks within their respective fields.
Virmani explains in a Ryerson newsletter that throughout her career in information technology she served on several boards such as the Toronto Transit Commision, the Toronto Local Health Integration Network and the Advisory Council for National Security, where she saw first-hand the gender inequality.
“I was one of two or three women out of 30 men,” she writes in the letter. According to Statistics Canada in 2011, the unemployment rate for women who graduated with STEM degrees was higher than men who graduated with STEM degrees.
Dr. Stephanie Melles, an assistant professor in Ryerson’s Department of Chemistry and Biology, believes that these types of scholarships are beneficial because they will enable students to access programming that they would not be able to.
“Having a scholarship for women in STEM fosters an attitudinal shift, because traditionally women have avoided STEM fields because they may not have many mentors or be exposed to women in those fields in the past, so it allows a shift in their own perceptions,” said Melles.
The scholarship will be divided into four individual awards of $10,000 awarded each year to four full-time female students who are at the top of their class and entering the fourth year of an undergraduate STEM program.
Virmani has also contributed her time and expertise to start-ups at Ryerson’s DMZ. The university’s dedication over the years to create more inclusive access to underrepresented groups in society was the reason Virmani decide that Ryerson was the right place for the scholarship, the newsletter explains.
The recipients of the scholarship will be selected in the fall.