Most statues of real people in the United States represent men. A 2016 study led by former US Treasurer Rosie Rios found that the ten largest American cities publicly displayed less than six statues of real women. That is why the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) chose statues as its medium to promote a greater representation of women in the STEM industry, where they currently make up less than 30% of the workforce. Erika Kurt, BCL’06, LLB’06, was selected as an ambassador for the campaign, titled IF/THEN She Can, for her work promoting antibiotic research among students.
What does it mean to you to be included in this exhibition?
I feel so honored to be an AAAS IF/THEN Ambassador and to be included in the IF/THEN Exhibit. It feels incredible to be recognized alongside so many amazing female innovators. The exhibit is breaking dated stereotypes about who belongs in STEM fields and showing girls everywhere that they can unlock their inner potential, embrace STEM, and change the world!
The evidence shows seeing is believing. When a girl sees a woman succeeding in STEM, she is more likely to consider a STEM career for herself: “IF she can see it, THEN she can be it.” Younger me would have never guessed that I would become one of the few real women with a statue, and I am grateful for the opportunity to help girls imagine options that they never knew existed.
How have role models played a role in your own journey?
When I was growing up, I did not see a lot of women in STEM fields. The few women in STEM I did see were physicians and nurses, and they really seemed to face challenges if they wanted to have a family. Very few were in leadership roles. After finishing my studies, I later discovered that there were so many exciting STEM career paths that would have been a great fit for me. Not seeing these female role models early on really impacted my career path. I am so excited to be part of a movement celebrating the limitless potential of women and girls and transforming perceptions about who belongs in STEM fields.
Have you found that your law education served you in your STEM career?
While at McGill Law, I developed a deep confidence in my ability to persist and tackle any challenge. Persistence to overcome obstacles and challenges is so critical in STEM fields. In addition, I am a doer with big dreams, and thanks to my law education, I bring a unique approach on how to scale impactful projects in a sustainable, cost-effective, and efficient way.
What does it feel like to be face-to-face with a life-size statue of yourself?
Being face-to-face with a life-size statue of myself has been overwhelming and filled me with joy and pride. It makes me reflect on my path, on the huge obstacles I have overcome, and on how I have contributed to the field. It gives me that boost of energy to continue to forge ahead in tackling pressing global health challenges.
Erika Kurt is the CEO of the Small World Initiative, a non-profit that encourages students to pursue careers in science by promoting antibiotic research. Read her If/Then She Can ambassador profile