This fall, students in Melanie Sanwo’s Honors English class at Clovis Community College came together with a common mission: Add biographies of diverse people in STEM to Wikipedia. The 12 students split in four groups to add four new biographies to Wikipedia: Steve Ramirez, Joseph Monroe, Juan G. Santiago, and James M. Jay.
For the Clovis students, it was an opportunity to see themselves in the people they were writing about. Designated as a Hispanic-Serving Institution, Clovis is located in Fresno, California.
“By adding a biography of a diverse person, I felt like I was bringing their story out in the world. Not many would know about this individual but because we started his article, it would allow others to learn about him,” says Kaitlyn Chhay, a first-year student at Clovis who is planning to major in biology. “My favorite part about writing for Wikipedia is knowing that in some way I am kind of leaving an impact on this website. Now forever on, I will know that I was one person of a group who started his article and brought his name out into the light.”
Benson Karki, a computer science major, echoed Kaitlyn’s sentiments.
“Adding a biography of diverse individuals in STEM to Wikipedia is significant to me because it serves as an inspiration for individuals from similar backgrounds,” he says. “Highlighting the accomplishments of someone like Juan G. Santiago, whose work was not widely showcased on the internet, is essential in demonstrating the possibilities within STEM fields to a broader audience.”
Bringing diverse people’s accomplishments to light is the goal of the project the students participated in, funded by the Broadcom Foundation. By adding diverse biographies to Wikipedia, the project seeks to help students see themselves in the heroes and heroines of science.
“As a person of color coming from Lebanese immigrant parents, adding a biography of a person also of color in STEM means for me that I can make it,” Danny Aoun says. “Having a role model who has pursued their dreams as a person of color and has a commonality with me in neuroscience motivates me to strive in whatever I am currently doing because my end goal will be to make as big of an impact on this world that Steve Ramirez has.”
Danny says he plans to transfer to a four-year college after finishing his first two years at Clovis. He hopes to major in psychology or psychological and brain sciences, and dreams of completing a doctoral degree. So creating the biography of a neuroscientist was particularly meaningful to him.
“My favorite part about writing for Wikipedia was learning what this underrepresented STEM researcher has done for modern neuroscience,” he says. “Neuroscience is such a fascinating field, so I enjoyed learning about the research he has done and what it means for the future.”
Juliet Herzog, another Clovis student, is also planning to transfer to a four-year school, and is majoring in biology.
“It was interesting to research and write about someone influential in STEM because of my interest in science,” she says. “Writing this article felt rewarding. As my group did research for the microbiologist we were creating an article for, James M. Jay, it seemed like he was influential in his field. From our research, he seemed dedicated to microbiology, and this was reflected in the awards honored to him. For this reason, I am glad he has a Wikipedia article that others can continue to make contributions to and others can read.”
Of course, not only did students learn about the people whose accomplishments they were featuring on Wikipedia — they also learned about Wikipedia itself.
“One crucial aspect I’d like to emphasize is how meticulously Wikipedia articles are crafted. They are credible, unbiased, and extensively backed by citations, challenging the misconception that they are not reliable sources; a significant lesson I learned through this assignment,” Benson says.
And it’s not just learning about Wikipedia; students gained core research and writing skills as well.
“One thing I really appreciate about this project was the skills developed from writing this type of article; for example, research and writing objectively,” Juliet says. “I thought it was an interesting project because of how different it was from past writing assignments. I am mostly familiar with writing argumentative essays or thematic essays, so this writing was very different for me. Furthermore, this project not only helps students, but also Wikipedia as this project raises awareness among students of writing for this website.”
Danny agrees. While he loved sharing Steve Ramirez’s contributions to neuroscience research, he also enjoyed gaining skills along the way.
“My second favorite part about writing about Wikipedia was learning information literacy. I did not only realize how to be literate at gathering information but how important it is in our day and age where seeking accurate information is a necessity,” he says. “I grew passionate for this project through the information I was learning, and this ties back to what Wikipedia is, a worldwide, free encyclopedia. Being able to provide more information to the public on what I may be researching in the future and supporting Wikipedia’s journey to make a more equitable encyclopedia has been a great honor.”
Visit teach.wikiedu.org to learn how to incorporate a Wikipedia assignment into your own course.
Header image of students in the class courtesy Melanie Sanwo, all rights reserved.