Adding biographies of female oceanographers

Laura Guertin is a Professor of Earth Science at Penn State Brandywine in Media, Pennsylvania. She recently participated in the 500 Women Scientists Wiki Scholars program and reflects on her experience with the Wikimedia community in this guest blog post.

As a scientist and educator Wikipedia is a resource that has always been on my radar. As a geoscience education blogger for the American Geophysical Union (AGU) at GeoEd Trek, I have explored different Wikipedia efforts and programs, such as Wikipedia edit-a-thon for women in STEM [Women’s History Month] (2015), Wikipedia turns 15 – but do academics trust this teenager? (2016), Wikipedia Year of Science 2016 (2016), and Why Wikipedia edit-a-thons are needed, and how we can help (2019). But I remained on the outside, quick to read about and comment on Wikipedia, without ever having made an edit on the site.

In the Spring 2020 semester, I was finally ready to dive in with my students through the Wikipedia Student Program and have my class edit Wikipedia pages. However, the semester shift to online learning had me pull back, with too many unknowns with students’ ability to access technology, and my own lack of confidence in my own ability to provide a positive Wikipedia experience through remote instruction. Still determined to jump in to the Wikipedia waters, I took the time this summer to build my own Wikipedia editing skills, and I’ve been extremely pleased with how many opportunities there have been for my own professional development, how quickly I’ve been able to contribute to Wikipedia biography pages, and how I’ve been able to assist others in making their first edits.

I have to credit my entry into the Wikipedia world with my participation in the 500 Women Scientists Wiki Scholars program, which provided instruction with Wikipedia experts, live mentoring via Zoom, asynchronous support via Slack, and an incredibly supportive community of newcomers to Wikipedia.

The Wiki Education program staff were incredible walking us through the steps to edit existing or to create new biography pages of women in STEM. We were asked to work on two biography pages, but I decided that it was “now or never” to take that deep dive into Wikipedia. I started by editing the page for Diana Josephson, the first female leader of NOAA. Then, I sought to create new Wikipedia pages, and finished three biographies by the end of the course – Rana FineDeborah Kelley, and Karen Von Damm. All three are oceanographers and AGU Fellows (as AGU Fellows, they meet the Wikipedia notability guidelines (academics)).

As I was completing the 500 Women Scientists Wiki Scholars program (you can see from the project dashboard that our 20 participants added over 38,000 words!), a one-day opportunity to add to Wikipedia was organized for June 10 on editWikipedia4BlackLives. I added content to the Wikipedia page for RADM Evelyn J. Fields (NOAA Corps), the first woman and first African American to head the NOAA Corps.

Then on June 25, the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History led a “virtual micro-crowdsourcing event” for Adding Women in Science to Wikipedia. Just like the previous event, there was a Wikipedia page for the event with a suggest list of bio pages to contribute to. I made additions to the page of botanist Velva E. Rudd.

And the opportunities have continued! I recently participated in the SACNAS/500 Women Scientists Edit-A-Thon on July 12, where I contributed to the biography page of physical oceanographer Vanesa Magar Brunner. I also served as a Wikipedia “expert” in one of the breakout rooms to help others with their edits. I am far from an expert, but it was great knowing that I had learned enough in the 500 Women Scientists Wiki Scholars program to be able to help others make contributions to this effort. The dashboard for this project shows there were 140 editors that came together from across the globe, adding over 53,000 words and creating 15 new bio pages!

Before I wrap up this post, I want to jump back to the work I did as part of the 500 Women Scientist Wiki Scholar program. My intent for my first-ever Wikipedia page was to create one to recognize a woman from where I went to graduate school, University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science. I never had the opportunity to be in a class or interact with Rana Fine, and as a student was only aware of a small part of the vast contributions she has made to the discipline. I also saw that her name was on the list of Wikipedia Women in Red/Geoscience AGU Fellows page (“red” because they do not have a page yet, so the hyperlink is not valid). This is where I saw the names of the other two women I created biography pages for. It has been incredibly humbling and amazing to learn about the numerous accomplishments of these female trailblazers in oceanography, and to do my part to make sure others learn about these individuals as well.

There are reasons and opportunities for editing Wikipedia pages, such as those listed in this EOS article. I feel so fortunate I had the opportunity to be selected for the 500 Women Scientist Wiki Scholar program and to be a part of a community committed to increasing and improving the representation of female scientists. Myself and my cohort still connect in our Slack channel and share our continued contributions and dates of future Edit-a-Thons. I look forward to discovering additional ways I can improve the biographies of women on Wikipedia and how I can mentor others along the way.

Interested in taking a course like the one Laura participated in? Visit to see current course offerings.

Header/thumbnail image courtesy of Laura Guertin, CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons


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