Florence Nightingale Day

February 23, 2023 by Michaela Drouillard

On Saturday February 18, CANSSI Ontario and the Department of Statistical Sciences hosted the second annual Florence Nightingale Day, an event for local high school students that aims to promote gender diversity in statistics and data science.

After the opening remarks delivered by Prof. Rohan Alexander, the day began with a presentation by Aurora Mendelsohn (Director of Research Analytics at the University of Toronto) and Anthony Gray (Director of Strategic Research at the University of Toronto) titled “The Power of Visualization”, where students learned about the history of data visualization and Florence Nightingale. Known mostly for founding modern nursing, Nightingale also pioneered data visualization to better care for wounded soldiers and public health improvements in the 1850s. The morning’s presentation was followed by data science activities coordinated by Prof. Samantha-Jo Caetano. In the afternoon, students had the chance to connect with women working in the industry in speed networking sessions.

I had the pleasure of talking to Elena Jin, Haylee Kim, Natalia Gayowsky, and Grace Zhang about their experiences at the workshop.

“I came to this event because I’m really into visualization. I like how you don't need to use words to describe something. Instead of writing a whole essay to tell you something, you tell it through graphs, and it's a kind of art,” said Grace Zhang, a grade 10 student at John Fraser Secondary School who’s interested in machine learning. “Like, that graph that [Florence Nightingale] made for the diseases and causes of death is amazing.”

Zhang and Haylee Kim first met at the University of Waterloo’s Think About Math workshop, where they spent the day together working on a package of math questions that they received the morning of the workshop.

“I really liked the dinosaur visualization activity, where we had to get the average and then estimate what it would look like before visualizing it. That was pretty cool,” said Kim, a grade 11 student in the visual arts concentration at the Etobicoke School of the Arts whose work is being exhibited until February 24th at the Neilson Park Creative Centre. “I also got really good practical advice about interviewing from Joanna [Lee], which was that you can have questions for the interviewer, and that it’s important to be thinking of things you might be wondering about the job even as you’re talking about yourself.”

The group enjoyed being able to connect with older women and seeing what kinds of paths are possible in statistics and data science. I asked what the event’s title -- “Florence Nightingale Day”-- meant to them.

“At school we don't really learn a lot about the specific lives of scientists very deeply.
We have a course in data management, but inside that course we don't get to learn about the different types of people that are inside of data science or statistics ,” said Elena Jin, a grade 12 student at Etobicoke School of the Arts. “And I think having a day dedicated to her allows us to learn not only about women in STEM, but to learn what helped to develop statistics as a field. I think it's important to learn about that.”

Natalia Gayowsky, who is in grade 11 at the Etobicoke School of The Arts, became interested in STEM subjects when she read The Order of Time by Carlo Rivelli. She’s looking into applying to programs in theoretical physics next year. “I think one of the reasons I decided to do this event was that I’ve only heard about or been taught about men. So I think it was really cool to have a whole day where I'm literally surrounded by women and all these people who are interested in the same types of things. It was really cool to me to have that kind of experience,” said Gayowsky.