Women in the Environmental Sciences: Illustrious Past, Bright Future
Women have a strong history of achievement in the environmental sciences, some of which is widely known and some of which ought to be. Biologist Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring marks, for many, the beginning of the modern environmental movement. Other women, whose names are less well known, have also made great contributions as scientists, activists, and educators.
Frances Beineke was a graduate of the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. Over the course of a long and eventful career, she won top awards from The Wilderness Society, the National Audubon Society, and others. Her book, The World We Create: A message of hope for a planet in peril is a classic of environmental education. Beineke was appointed by President Barack Obama to the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling.
Ana Roque de Duprey founded girls’ schools in her native Puerto Rico, beginning with one in her home, and including the College of Mayaguez (now the Mayaguez campus of the University of Puerto Rico). She wrote and published The Botany of the Antilles, which, at the time, was the definitive study of Caribbean flora.
Virginia Holsinger conducted pioneering research on dairy farming, dairy products, and food safety. She developed a soy drink which is still in use in food donation programs, serving as a cost-effective, environmentally friendly milk substitute. She also developed a grain blend which can be mixed with water to provide food for victims of famine, drought, and war.
A Legacy of Innovation and Inspiration
Carson, Beineke, de Duprey, Holsinger, and other pioneering female scientists contributed greatly to the body of knowledge in their own fields. More importantly, they inspired—and their stories continue to inspire—generations of future scientists.
Kristin Elliott, CEO of Precision Measurement Engineering, a Vista, CA company that is number 3180 on 2019’s Inc. 5000 list of America’s Fastest Growing Companies, is grateful for all the women who paved the way in science. “These brave, brilliant women who came before have contributed so much,” Elliott said. “I’d love to look back someday and think I inspired girls and young women the way my predecessors inspired me.”
Educational and Career Opportunities in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM)
Elliott and others hoping to inspire the next generation of female scientists can take comfort in the knowledge that the future has never been brighter for girls and young women in the scientific fields. Professional societies, fellowships, internships, and academic opportunities exist in larger numbers—and are more accessible—than ever before.
The Society of Women Environmental Professionals (SWEP), which has chapters in most states or regions, exists to encourage and promote leadership, achievement, and professional development for women in the environmental fields. Chapters host conferences dedicated to education, information sharing, and the promotion of public service as a career and way of life. Many SWEP chapters offer scholarship programs at the graduate and undergraduate levels.
Women In Environment (WIE) serves the West Coast, with chapters in Seattle, Portland, and Northern California. WIE seeks to further professional development and opportunities for women in the environmental fields. Networking, education, and mentoring programs are its main activities.
Women and girls seeking scholarships in the environmental (and other) sciences have a variety of avenues to explore. Corporations like the Ford Motor Company and Annie’s Homegrown offer scholarships for different aspects of environmental science, as do scientific and environmental organizations like the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).