NEA Big Read at Duquesne to Focus on Women in STEM Memoir 'Lab Girl'

Duquesne has been selected as a recipient of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Big Read---the only organization in Pennsylvania to receive the prestigious grant in 2019. The NEA Big Read aims to broaden the understanding of the world, communities and oneself through the enjoyment of a book.  

Programming will focus on Lab Girl by Hope Jahren, a geobiologist, writer and advocate for women and girls in science. Lab Girl is a memoir documenting Jahren's successes and sacrifices as she navigates financial instability, mental illness and a field traditionally dominated by men. Her love of trees, leaves and seeds is woven throughout the narrative reminding us of the enduring quality of nature.  

"With over 500 female students studying in 27 STEM-related programs at Duquesne, we thought Lab Girl would be the perfect book to feature during the Big Read," says University Librarian Dr. Sara Baron. "The story presents a wonderful coming-of-age tale based on friendship, hard work and study that is accessible to anyone who is interested in the beautiful trees that surround us."  

Book discussions and community events will be scheduled from Monday, Feb. 10, through Tuesday, March 31. A kickoff event on Feb. 11 will feature a panel discussion with female faculty members from the Bayer School of Natural and Environmental Sciences (BSNES), the School of Pharmacy and the College of Liberal Arts, among others. Duquesne alumna and associate laboratory director for simulation and computation at the Los Alamos National Laboratory Irene Qualters will also participate as a panelist. The discussion will take place from 3 to 5 p.m. in the Africa Room of the Student Union. Panelists will be speaking from their own experiences about the themes present in Lab Girl.  

Throughout the NEA Big Read at Duquesne, several campus groups-such as the campus Women in STEM group and D.U. Quark-will host book discussions. NEA Big Read at Duquesne partners Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Science Center will host community discussions. Additional book groups at community libraries and other organizations around Pittsburgh will be scheduled along with the distribution of free copies of Lab Girl.  

Duquesne's Gumberg Library will host an amateur art competition Growing Toward the Light: Pittsburgh Nature-an all-media juried visual art show inspired by Lab Girl. Open to artists over 13 years of age living in the Pittsburgh region, entries for the exhibit are due on Friday, Feb. 28. The exhibit will be displayed from March 9 through March 31 in Gumberg Library's Popular Reading Room. For more information about the art competition, visit the event website or email Gumberg Library Communication and Engagement Librarian Scott Buchanan at sbuchanan@duq.edu.  

Other events include:

  • Pop-up book discussion at Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh during its annual Celebration of Seeds event on February 22.
  • Keynote address with a celebrated science communicator on March 23. Details forthcoming.
  • "Little Read" children's book event.
  • A Duquesne Day of Giving campaign focused on raising money for a tree in celebration of the Big Read. 
  • A public memoir writing workshop led by Department of English doctoral candidate Caitlyn Hunter on March 17.  

"We are so excited to get started with the many campus and community events and book discussions of Lab Girl," says Baron. "We hope these conversations will contribute to the success of women in science and inspire girls to pursue science education and careers. We also plan to meet the challenge given by author Hope Jahren to 'plant a tree' by crowdfunding for several tree plantings."  

For more information, visit the Big Read website.  

Duquesne University

Founded in 1878, Duquesne is consistently ranked among the nation's top Catholic universities for its award-winning faculty and tradition of academic excellence. Duquesne, a campus of nearly 9,500 graduate and undergraduate students, has been nationally recognized for its academic programs, community service and commitment to sustainability. Follow Duquesne University on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
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