In a bid to raise the profile of women in STEM, members of the Cornell and Ithaca community participated over the weekend in the Women in the Sciences’ Wikipedia Edit-a-Thon — an annual event where volunteers gather to create or expand upon entries in the online encyclopedia.
The Sunday event — which coincided with Ada Lovelace Day, which celebrates the contributions of one of history’s first computer programmers — was organized by librarians Selena Bryant of Mann Library, and Wendy Wilcox of Olin Library. Citing that “less than 18 percent of English-language biographies are about women,” the event aimed to simultaneously tackle the website’s gender disparity while providing Wikipedia editing skills to beginners.
Bryant estimated that 2,000 words were added to about 36 entries on Sunday, and three to four new entries were drafted for notable female Cornell faculty and alumni.
Wilcox was inspired after watching her high school-aged daughter participate in STEM activities in the Ithaca area, and noticed a disparity in female representation, while Bryant, meanwhile, had the Wikipedia editing knowledge to pass on to others.
“Wendy and I both attended the Arts & Feminism Wikipedia edit-a-thon,” Byrant recalled, noting the pair was inspired by the event and decided to hold one for women in STEM fields.
Participants were provided with instructions on how to edit Wikipedia entries, as well as a list of Cornell female scientists and professors who had incomplete entries, or did not have entries at all. Most of the participants did not have prior experience with Wikipedia editing.
Ben Grodner grad attended the event to learn how to organize similar events with the Biomedical Engineering Society. He noted that although school-aged children are often discouraged from using Wikipedia, “the reality of our world is that everyone uses Wikipedia for information.”
Grodner was not the only one thinking about expanding the work to their own organization. Madeline Dubelier ’20, co-president of the Cornell Society of Women Engineers also participated in the event and expressed similar ideas.
“I think this would be something really interesting to do within our organization specifically,” Dubelier told The Sun.
Participation of the event also extended beyond current students at Cornell. Frankie Zhu Ph.D. ’19 mentioned how easy editing pages was, and even as an inexperienced editor, she was able to start a new Wikipedia entry in her short time at the event.
“There’s a faculty member here that I absolutely adore and has accomplished a lot, and I’m trying to make a Wikipedia page for her,” Zhu told The Sun.
Zhu said that addressing the disparity between male and female Wikipedia entries is an important step in making STEM fields more accessible to women.
“We’re very sensitive to information ingestion and not having these women represented in the way that we digest information skews our perspective into thinking that only men can be scientists or engineers,” she said. “It’s hard to find a role model”.