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PROWESS Shines Light On Women ‘Pioneers’

Jessica Moore
Jessica Moore

With AAPG’s 100-year anniversary now just three years away, the AAPG’s PROWESS Committee (Professional Women in Earth Sciences) is creating a way to recognize and honor pioneer women who were vitally important to AAPG, the profession and the industry.

According to committee co-chair Jessica Moore, PROWESS has been hard at work researching and preparing 100 biographical sketches of AAPG Pioneering Women in Geosciences for the upcoming anniversary.

The idea was the brainchild of past AAPG president and Honorary member Robbie Gries, who wrote an email to the committee in March 2012.

“The first 100 women in AAPG … for the 100 year anniversary … might be interesting and fun”, Gries said.

Since then, PROWESS enthusiastically embraced the project and is making great progress developing 100 sketches of women who could serve as an inspiration to all.

“There was a strong desire for us to understand, as well as to recognize, the huge contribution of those women who paved the way for us geoscientists today,” Moore said.

Nine PROWESS members comprise the research team – and according to Moore, the team’s skills as explorationists have come in handy. While the research has been quite challenging for the group and has made them feel at times more like detectives, Moore described the research process as “a wonderfully inspiring journey.

“We have learned to scour ancestry sites, obituaries, church records, university alumni records, government censuses and much more,” Moore said, proudly.

In the early days, AAPG membership records took the form of 3-by-5-inch cards, with new member applicants’ contact information, education and employment details often hand-written or manually typed by the applicants themself.

These carefully preserved records revealed the first 100 women members were born between the years of 1882 and 1921. Midway in this age range was AAPG pioneer Ruth Schmidt, born 1916, who was with colleagues measuring the depth of glacial Portage Lake in Alaska when the great 1964 earthquake hit that endangered their lives.

(A story on Schmidt and her career is set for the April EXPLORER.)

Moore described sketches that will be part of the final collection – biographies that portray amazing women from all walks of life, from housewives who taught piano lessons in their spare time to fund their oil discoveries to professional geoscientists interrupting their studies and careers to serve in World War I and World War II combat and aviation units.

“It has been a wonderfully inspiring journey to search out the histories on women we have come across in pursuing this immense research effort,” Moore said.

“I really cannot pick a favorite biography,” she added. “They are each stories of tremendous passion, hard work, stamina and ingenuity, from which we can all take lessons.”

Looking for Mentors

AAPG established PROWESS eight years ago, in an initiative to help retain women in the industry. At that time only 40 percent of the undergraduates of geology were women, and women made up less than 10 percent of AAPG members.

Since its inception, the PROWESS committee has grown from 20 members in 2006 to 55 members from six countries at the start of 2014. PROWESS also has helped to increase female AAPG membership to 18 percent in the short time that it has been around.

The increase in female AAPG members is attributed in part to the leadership and career – focused short courses for women and men offered at the AAPG annual conventions each year since 2012, organized and co-hosted by PROWESS and the Association for Women Geoscientists (AWG).

This year at the Houston ACE, in addition to a pre-convention short course, a mentoring and networking reception is offered on Saturday evening, co-hosted by PROWESS, AWG and the Society for Exploration Geophysicists (SEG) Women’s Network Committee.

PROWESS also has been working tirelessly to help address concerns and take an active approach in improving the climate for women in the industry.

Moore believes a common theme that unites women in the geosciences today is their desire for role models and mentors – another reason she’s so passionate about the 100 Pioneer Women project.

And although Moore feels that in most cases she has had the same benefits and treatments as her male peers, “time and again this is being proven to not quite be the case for everyone,” she said.

Women in the industry desire to see “women with technical, business and informal work-life balance competence and lessons learned to share,” that can help them with the challenges they encounter, she said.

“Personally, I have found great benefit to the networking I’ve gained across the industry and globe as well as the skills I’ve gained,” Moore said, “and will continue to gain through the short courses on leadership skills and business acumen.”

The 100 Pioneer Women project, she hopes, will be another part of that effort – with long-lasting benefits.

“These sketches are just one way that the committee plans to help women find these role models,” she said, “and continue making positive differences in the professional career of women in the geoscience industry.”

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