Girls are Golden

Meet Four Women in the Laurier Community Building a Brighter Future for Girls

Working to Support Girls and Their Rights

Oct. 11 marks International Day of the Girl, an annual campaign for girls to amplify their voices and advocate for their rights. People around the world, including those at Wilfrid Laurier University, are working to support girls and their rights to ensure they can live free from gender-based violence, learn new skills for the futures of their choice and become leaders of social change.

“The work happening at Laurier in support of young women and girls is part of our commitment to build thriving, equitable communities that prepare people for the challenges of the future,” says Laurier President and Vice-chancellor Deborah MacLatchy. “We continue to elevate the voices of young women and support their efforts to effect social change.”

Meet four women in the Laurier community who are working to ensure that girls have opportunities to succeed in the classroom, the lab, on the field and everyday life.

Shohini Ghose

Centre for Women in Science: Including Girls in STEM

Shohini Ghose remembers physics classrooms being a “lonely place.”

“I was often the only woman there, or one of two,” she recalls.

Now an accomplished professor of Physics and Computer Science at Laurier, Ghose is working to ensure that the next generation of girls feel welcome in the STEM fields. She founded the Laurier Centre for Women in Science (WinS) in 2012, which aims to build an inclusive community for women in science through research, communication and action. And earlier this year, Ghose was awarded the Ontario Chair for Women in Science and Engineering by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada. The five-year appointment will provide Ghose with significant research funding and a network of collaborators across Canada as she works to enhance national and provincial opportunities for women in science and engineering.

“We have to reach broadly across communities and this kind of program allows us to scale up what we’ve been doing at WinS to have a larger impact,” says Ghose. “Some of our best conversations and greatest impacts are because of our Laurier students, who are always very engaged in anything to do with activism and social change. That has been fantastic, and I really look forward to continuing that.”

Courtney Bruce (BA ‘16): Empowering Girls in Everyday Life

Laurier athletics services coordinator Courtney Bruce (BA ‘16) is the founder of She Can & She Will, a movement to help inspire and empower young girls in sports, athletics and everyday life.

“The goal is to help girls build the confidence, commitment and courage to be invincible,” says Bruce. “In today’s world, especially on social media, it’s easy to compare yourself to others, be hard on yourself and want to change things about yourself. We see this in young girls.”

Since the launch of She Can & She Will in 2016, Bruce has hosted various workshops and events for young girls of various age groups on subjects including self-love, positivity, goal setting, confidence and gratitude. Her workshops help young girls create a toolkit they can use to help navigate and become their best versions of themselves.

“I call it being your own hype squad,” says Bruce. “I grew up playing sports and was always on a team, and I had amazing support systems at home to help me through any obstacle that came my way or negative thought I had about myself. I want to be that support for girls.”

With all programs and workshops transitioning to a virtual setting, Bruce is looking at ways to innovate new workshops to break the status quo and help young girls be their best selves.

Courtney Butler and soccer team
Mary Saleh

Mary Saleh (MA ‘19): Including Newcomers Girls through Sports

Mary Saleh (MA ‘19) believes all girls should have the opportunity to play sports. But through her work with newcomer families in Waterloo Region, Saleh knows opportunities for organized play can be harder for girls to find.

In March 2019, Saleh started a girls-only soccer program with support from Levant Canada, a refugee resettlement organization, while finishing a master’s degree at Laurier. Saleh, a former midfielder on the Syrian national women’s soccer team, was inspired to give back to the community that had supported her as a newcomer studying at Laurier through the International Students Overcoming War (ISOW) scholarship.

Sharing her professional expertise and passion for soccer with girls and young women has allowed her to do that.

“Sport is a universal language that helps newcomers integrate with their new communities,” says Saleh. “Playing soccer has contributed to who I am today. It has helped me grow my confidence and opened doors as a student.”

Saleh hopes playing soccer will have a similar impact on the girls participating in her program.

In just over a year, the soccer program has grown from a group of 20 girls ages six through 12 to include skill development and training for young women ages 13 through 29. Fellow Laurier alumnae and ISOW scholars May Mahrat (MA ‘17), Hiba El Miari (BSc ‘19), Maria Almhana (MIPP ‘19) and Levant Canada Executive Director Siba Al-Khadour help Saleh run the program, which hopes to resume play when it is safe to do so.

Charlotte Peng: Studying for a More Sustainable Future

Last October, Charlotte Peng, a Grade 12 student from Wolfville, Nova Scotia, visited Laurier to be its president and vice-chancellor for the day. She was one of more than two dozen girls and women, aged 14 to 24, who stepped into leadership positions in companies and organizations across Canada ahead of International Day of the Girl as part of Plan International Canada’s Girls Belong Here initiative.

Peng accompanied President and Vice-Chancellor Deborah MacLatchy to meetings; played the pipe organ in Martin Luther University College’s Keffer Memorial Chapel; took a singing lesson with Professor Kimberly Barber; and toured Laurier’s synthetic cadavers lab.

This past June, Peng was the valedictorian at her high school graduation ceremony. She had the highest average in her class – 99.2% – and was awarded the Queen Elizabeth II medal for her involvement at the school and in the community.

She is currently studying toward a Bachelor of Science degree in Biology at Acadia University on the prestigious Arthur Irving Scholarship in Environmental Science and Biology, valued at $60,000 over four years. Peng is interested in studying how water and sanitation hygiene; maternal, newborn and child health; and climate crises intersect and in finding sustainable solutions to related challenges.

In addition to her studies, Peng is a Young Leader for Women Deliver, a global organization dedicated to gender equality and the health and rights of women and girls and is one of 300 leaders from 96 countries who are advocating for gender equality on behalf of the organization.

She is still playing the organ, and other instruments, and regularly performs at community events and church services.

“I remember my time at Laurier fondly,” says Peng. “The effort that Laurier takes to facilitate meaningful engagement with young people where they're not only heard but also valued was empowering. My seat-share was so personally rewarding, and to this day, I am filled with gratitude.”

Read more about Charlotte Peng’s visit to Laurier in October 2019.

Charlotte Peng at desk