Women in Science Who Inspired Nations

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Women in Science Who Inspired Nations

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What better time to celebrate great women in science than the present! This is the third installment of our series - read the first and second - and we're highlighting women in history who not only overcame impressive obstacles to be the first of their kinds but whose perseverance and work changed the status quo, creating wide-scale movements that improved the lives of countless people.

The more we talk about these women and their accomplishments the more they become role models for all young, future scientists, but importantly, for young girls, 47% of whom don't know a woman in a STEM field. Through this series, we hope to show all aspiring young girls that you, too, can do great good in the world through science. That without these women, the world would be a poorer place. And that with more women in science, there is more opportunity for creativity, invention, and progress. 

It's part of our larger #STEM4Good campaign. We hope you'll share our campaign and help us engage more girls in science this year.

Wangari Maathai

Wangari Maathai will always be remembered as a powerful advocate for the people and the planet.

Maathai was born in Nyeri, Kenya on April 1, 1940. She received her Ph.D. in Anatomy from the University of Nairobi in 1971, becoming the first woman in East and Central Africa to earn a doctorate degree. But she became internationally famous for her struggle for democracy, human rights, and environmental conservation. 

While serving as chairman of the National Council of Women of Kenya, Maathai first brought up the idea of community-based tree planting. The idea developed into the Green Belt Movement, an environmental organization that empowers communities, especially women, to conserve the environment and improve livelihoods. So far, the organization has planted more than 51 million trees! 

"We cannot tire or give up. We owe it to the present and future generations of all species to rise up and walk!"

While her awards form a long list, her lifelong fight for the protection of public lands and sustainable community management of those lands won her the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004. 

We celebrate the incredible achievements of Wangari Maathai to highlight how women in science can inspire nations and change the world for the better. To learn more her life and work, read one of the four books Maathai wrote: The Green Belt Movement, Unbowed: A Memoir, The Challenge for Africa, and Replenishing the Earth. You can also watch the documentary Taking Root: the Vision of Wangari Maathai

Wangari Maathai photo and quote as part of Ecology Project International's STEM4Good campaign

Lori Arviso Alvord

Dr. Lori Arviso Alvord was born in 1958 in a small town called Crownpoint, New Mexico, a Navajo reservation adjacent to New Mexico. Trained at Stanford University Medical School, Alvord was the first Navajo woman to be board certified in surgery and would go on to become one of the first surgeons to bring western medicine and traditional Navajo healing together for the holistic healing of her patients and to speed their recovery. 

Although Alvord was a skilled surgeon, she became frustrated by the shortcomings of modern medicine and its inability to treat the whole person, body and spirit.

"I was not always a healer. I went back to the healers of my tribe to learn what a surgical residency could not teach me. From them, I have heard a resounding message: Everything in our lives is connected. Learn to understand the bonds between humans, spirit, and nature. Realize that our illness and our healing alike come from maintaining strong and healthy relationships in every aspect of our lives."

Alvord developed a unique approach to medicine that took into account each patient's environment and relationships. She incorporated artwork and nature into the hospital's design. Her strides to bring cultural awareness to medicine caused the National Indian Health Board and the National Congress of American Indians to endorse her as Surgeon General of the United States. 

To learn more about Dr. Alvord, read her autobiography The Scalpel and the Silver Bear, which shares her difficulties with bringing modern medicine to reservations. 

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