UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — "The Bearded Lady Project: Challenging the Face of Science" is a documentary and photographic project about women working in the male-dominated field of paleontology. It celebrates the contributions of women scientists and highlights the challenges and obstacles they face. Penn State's College of Earth and Mineral Sciences will host a screening of the 22-minute documentary and presentation, followed by a panel discussion, question-and-answer session and reception from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 23, in 22 Deike Building on the University Park campus. The events are free and open to the public.
The project and film’s originator, Ellen Currano, and her project partners, filmmaker Lexi Jamieson Marsh, and photographer Kelsey Vance, say the film challenges preconceptions about what a scientist looks like by posing female field scientists wearing beards, a potent symbol of masculinity, to highlight the inequities and prejudices that exist in the paleontology field.
Currano, who received her doctorate in geosciences from Penn State and is now an associate professor in the Departments of Botany and Geology and Geophysics at the University of Wyoming, will be on campus for the screening, give the presentation and will participate in the panel discussion.
“We are excitied to welcome Ellen back to Penn State to host both a showing of the film and a panel discussion,” said Mark Patzkowsky, professor of geosciences who is helping organize the event.
According to the project’s website, their mission is twofold. First, to celebrate the inspirational and adventurous women who choose to dedicate their lives in the search of clues to the history of life on Earth. And second, to educate the public on the inequities and prejudices that exist in the field of science, with special emphasis on the geosciences.
“Female scientists are missing from the media. Through the film, the audience will see women in action and recognize how rare it is to see them featured as scientists. We hope our project will inspire young women to pursue a career in geosciences or other STEM fields,” says Currano.
Gabriella Rossetto, paleontology graduate student and outreach coordinator for Penn State’s Student Chapter of the Association for Women Geoscientists, is also involved in planning the event.
"The fact that “The Bearded Lady Project” is not only calling attention to the gender issues that exist in our field but also creating a sisterhood around it is really important. I hope that bringing the project to Penn State will open up a dialogue and strengthen our community of women in science on campus," said Rossetto.
The Penn State scientists joining Currano for the panel discussion include:
- Jennifer Baka, assistant professor of geography
- Kristina Douglass, assistant professor of anthropology
- Katherine Freeman, Evan Pugh University Professor of Geosciences
- Elizabeth Hajek, associate professor of geosciences
- Parisa Shokouhi, associate professor of civil engineering
Currano’s talk was also selected for the 2018 Lattman Visiting Scholar of Science and Society speaker series. The series was created to engage undergraduate students in a broad range of scholarly issues. It was endowed by friends and associates of Laurence Lattman, a geosciences educator who taught at Penn State from 1957 to 1970. During that time, he developed a geology course for nongeology majors, Geological Sciences 20: Planet Earth, which he taught to more than 24,000 students.