Many people thought then presidential candidate Donald Trump’s comments about science (he called human-caused climate change a hoax) and women (the infamous clip from Access Hollywood) were troubling. Four female scientists—who all attended grad school in Colorado—found them terrifying. So, days after Trump won the election, they penned a letter that pledged to “re-affirm our commitment to build a more inclusive society and scientific enterprise.” They posted the note online and hoped to get 500 signatures from other female scientists. By the end of January, they had collected more than 12,000.
The overwhelming response convinced the quintet to form 500 Women Scientists, an entity that aims to support women interested in biology, chemistry, and other science-related disciplines. “We want to get teams of women scientists into communities where science is needed or where science is mistrusted,” says co-founder Jane Zelikova, who attended the University of Colorado Boulder and is currently a science and technology policy fellow at the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
To facilitate local engagement, the organization has created a network of 115 pods around the world, including ones in Denver, Boulder, and Fort Collins. Each operates autonomously. The Boulder group, for instance, consists of 83 scientists and will initially focus on advocacy, mentorship, and outreach. It will work with 314 Action, a Washington, D.C., nonprofit, to aid scientists from Colorado running for office and to serve as a resource for politicians on science-related issues. Nationally, 500 Women Scientists hopes to deploy mentorship and outreach programs in places like Tennessee and Kentucky—states where skepticism about science and suspicion of scientists is common.
But the group will officially begin at home, on June 3, by hosting a launch party and fundraiser for the Cairn Project, which seeks to get girls hooked on outdoor adventures, at CU Boulder’s Sustainability Innovation Lab and North Boulder Park. There will be food, hikes, and bike rides. The idea is that when it comes to science, nature can help nurture young women.