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The triumph of John Scott (and other uninspiring athletes)

Tracing an athlete’s rise to popularity in the age of the meme

The triumph of John Scott (and other uninspiring athletes)

[dropcap]I[/dropcap]n the Arizona Coyotes’ most recent game against the Winnipeg Jets, Coyotes left-winger John Scott averaged roughly five minutes and 11 seconds on the ice. He did not receive a single goal or assist, let alone a single shot on net, and would have been entirely forgettable had it not been for a two-minute penalty he received during the second period of play. Now, after 11 games and one recorded point this season, Scott is headed to the NHL’s All-Star game with absolutely nothing to show for it.

How did such a low-caliber athlete get into the all-star game, you might ask?

It’s a long story.

His rise to fame began a few months back, when fans of the Arizona Coyotes were asked to vote on their preferred players for the NHL’s annual talent show. Arizona — a state that’s 90 per cent desert and 10 per cent cacti — isn’t exactly known for its love of the puck, so it’s no surprise that the fans elected one of the worst players on the team to perform. 

After being voted in by fans, Scott was subsequently traded to the Montreal Canadiens who sent him down to their farm team, the St. John’s IceCaps upon arrival. It seemed, briefly, as though all hope was lost. Until an Internet movement — bound together by a mutual appreciation for this deficient competitor — resurrected Scott from the bowels of the minor leagues.

The group behind the movement demanded that the national league, as they put it, “#FreeJohnScott.” The fans succeeded, and Scott will now captain the Pacific All-Stars in their match against the Central All-Stars. In a nutshell, that’s how John Scott became a so-called All-Star (Captain All-Star, at that), but more importantly, it’s how John Scott became #JohnScott. 

Scott is one of many mediocre athletes to reach surprising heights of popularity entirely by accident. But skill level doesn’t necessarily equate popularity. Gone are the days when fans prescribed worth based solely on athletic expertise. In the age of Internet memes, professional athletes can be any level of athletic proficiency — as inspiring or uninspiring as they please — and still develop a cult following that could blow LeBron James’ fan-base out of the water. While recruiters look for specific skill-sets in professional athletes, online popularity strives on quirks, physical appeal, or one eyebrow where there should be two. The goal is not to find an inspirational figure for us to cling to; rather, it’s to find amusement that will appease our momentary attention spans. 

It’s hard to say where all this started, but then again, it’s hard to say where anything ‘started’ on the Internet. At some point or another, somebody found an athlete’s face, actions, or performance laughable, packaged it into a meme, and catapulted their creation into cyberspace. 

NFL quarterback Tim Tebow was one of the first athletes to fall prey to the Internet’s memedom, when the act of ‘Tebowing’ became a popular practice amongst football and non-football fans alike. His stats weren’t deplorable, but they were nothing to write home about either. People liked him because he’d drop to one knee when overcome.

The other popular athlete who found meme-fueled fame, is Anthony Davis, whose name NBA fans wouldn’t recognize had it not been for his unibrow. The Internet quickly picked up on his captivating facial hair, meme’d it, and now — as a non-NBA fan — you’re more likely to recognize Davis than you are to recognize Steph Curry. 

Needless to say, the popular yet mediocre athlete has long predated the Internet. The ‘entertainers’ — like Tie Domi, Dennis Rodman, or Dock Ellis — have been around as long as fans have taken pleasure from the oddities of sport. But now, said entertainer is selected rather randomly, and often without the athlete’s knowledge. Davis didn’t set out to have his face become a popular Internet meme, and Scott certainly didn’t plan to play in the all-star game. But in the world of sporadic and momentary online trends, anything is possible.

From Varsity Blue to philanthropist

Stephanie Rudnick’s Swish for the Cure event has raised thousands for childhood cancer research

From Varsity Blue to philanthropist

Stephanie Rudnick is a former Varsity Blues basketball player who played for current U of T head coach Michele Belanger during the 1994-1999 seasons. In 1999, Rudnick was intent upon playing out her final year of eligibility wearing blue and white. She had goals to “win a National Championship, become an OUA All Star, an All Canadian, and then play pro in Israel.” Following these achievements, Rudnick planned to return to Canada and start her own basketball camp. 

Playing through several back injuries, Rudnick was named an OUA All Star in her fourth year. Before being able to check another goal off her list, Rudnick’s life took an unexpected turn. In May 1999, her father was diagnosed with stage four cancer, and passed away only two months after his diagnosis. Devastated and injured, Rudnick did not return to the Blues that fall and was forced to revise a plan that she had dedicated years of her life to fulfilling.

No pro contract, no business education, and in the midst of a devastating loss, Rudnick was left without direction. “Feeling self-defeated I cried to him about how my old plan was ruined,” Rudnick explained how she reacted when a friend asked about what she would do next.

It was only after this meeting and some serious thought that Rudnick conceptualized Elite Camps. Born out of pain, Elite Camps is one of the largest and longest running basketball organizations in Canada. Based in the GTA, Elite Camps sees more then 3,000 kids every year and is in its seventeenth year of operation.

To avoid competition with rival clubs, Rudnick explains that her first camp was launched over the holidays: “I found out that Passover was a time with no programming. I decided I would try to run my first camp at that time [to avoid competing with other camps in the GTA].”

Rudnick pursued mentorship from another camp director, joined the Ontario Camping Association, and reached out to her former Varsity Blues teammates to work at her camp. What started as one camp in Toronto soon grew into two, and now Elite Camps runs over 37 sessions in multiple cities.

Next came Swish for the Cure. “A few years after I started my business I really wanted to do something to honour [my father’s] memory,” Rudnick explained, which is how Swish for the Cure — celebrating its tenth anniversary on February 6, started. Swish for the Cure has raised over $135,000 to date for in the name of the Childhood Cancer Foundation. Rudnick explained that the event has evolved in the past ten years from a way to raise money for cancer research, to an opportunity to provide families of children with fighting cancer “a free day of fun, food and time with their family in a safe environment…[including] basketball activities, arts and crafts, carnival activities and many popular local child entertainers.” 

At the time of the first Swish for the Cure, Elite Camps was not the expansive chain of basketball camps that it is today. While Rudnick isn’t one to consider herself a philanthropist out of modesty, she would concede that philanthropy is a lot like playing basketball. Effective philanthropy fills a void in society in the same way that an effective player meets the needs of their team. It can be something small, like rebounding, or something more pronounced like accepting a leadership role.

Younger players step-up, make it a 2-0 weekend for women’s hockey

2-1 win over Western and OT win over Lancers moves Blues to fifth spot in OUA

Younger players step-up, make it a 2-0 weekend for women’s hockey

Coming off their first win of 2016 against the Brock Badgers last weekend in St. Catharines, the Varsity Blues women’s hockey team sought to keep the wins coming as they faced off against the Western Mustangs and Windsor Lancers at Varsity Arena on Friday and Saturday nights.

Despite having a shaky start to the second half of their season, the Blues are now ranked fifth in the OUA and they look like they are finally finding their stride as they put away a 2-1 win over the number five Mustangs and 3-2 overtime win over the Lancers.

During Friday night’s game, the Blues wasted no time in opening scoring as second year forward Meagan O’Brien found the back of the net only 2:52 into the first period, tipping a soaring point shot from rookie Cristine Chao. The Mustangs answered the call with a goal some five minutes later as Amanda Pereria was able to sneak one by rookie goaltender Valencia Yordanov. Even with two penalties, which sent Blues forwards Taylor Day and Jessica Robichand to the sin bin, Toronto was able to outshoot Western 13-7 in the first frame and limit the bleeding to a single goal.

The Mustangs had a strong start in the second, by keeping most of the pressure in the Blues end for the first half of the period, despite a Blues power play. Toronto was given an energy boost at the halfway mark of the period with two back-to-back breakaway chances from veteran forwards captain Kristi Riseley and Taylor Day. Western’s domination in the second was taking its toll on the Blues until O’Brien proved she had more in the tank. With less than two minutes remaining in the period, O’Brien sank her second goal — which would turn out to be the game-winner — on a rebound from a solid shot from defenseman Cristine Chao.

Carrying the momentum from O’Brien’s goal into the third, the Blues fought hard to hold on to their narrow one-goal lead by controlling the puck for the majority of the period.

A late penalty call on Toronto with only four minutes left tested the Blues’ penalty kill, but the women answered the call, running down the two minutes with ease, despite an extra Western attacker in the dying seconds of the game due to a pulled goalie.

The 2-1 victory marks an emergence of the younger Blues’ playing a larger role in the team’s success, with all points of the night coming from first-or-second-year players. When asked about her pair of goals, O’Brien was quick to pass credit along to her teammate, by saying, “Chao had two great shots, I was in a good spot to be able to put them away.”

Fresh off the narrow victory, the Blues had little time to rest as the next evening the women faced off against the Windsor Lancers in their ninth annual Think Pink #BLEEDBLUE game at Varsity Arena. As part of the campaign, the players have raised a whopping $1,600, the most in the CIS for the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation.

The Blues’ brought it down to the wire in a close 3-2 win over the Lancers that had to be decided in overtime.

The Lancers came out flying in the first period with a quick goal by Shawna Lesperance only 2:42 in, that came as result of a Blues’ turnover in the Toronto zone. Toronto was only able to put a handful of shots on goal as Windsor controlled the period. The Lancers were able to put one more away before the first frame ended with the help of April Loojie’s hooking penalty that gave them a two-minute powerplay.

The flat-footed Blues were revived by a powerplay goal 3:47 into the second period, as Kristi Riseley was able to get her stick on a rocket shot from defenseman Rebecca Bourgeois and tip it over the shoulder of Lancers netminder Ingrid Sandven. The goal appeared to send the Blues into another gear, carrying momentum through the period by dominating the frame.

The pressure paid off, as second-year Meagan O’Brien, who had scored the Blues only two goals the night prior, was able to put one away with the help of a textbook pass from fellow second-year forward Lauren Straatman. The goal marked O’Brien’s fourth in the last four games.

Entering the third period tied at two, both teams appeared eager to win in regulation. Toronto’s penalty kill was tested with two separate penalties, that would send fifth-year’s Jacqueline Scheffel and April Loojie to the box. The Blues ran down both penalties but were unable to find the back of the net before the period came to a close. The game would have to be decided in extra time.

The four-on-four overtime proved just what the Blues needed to finish off the Lancers. After controlling the puck for all of the 1:37 that elapsed in extra time, veteran forward Sonja Weidenfelder brought the win home for the Blues with a one-timer off a pass from fourth-year favourite Taylor Day. In tandem with the Blues victory over the Lancers on Friday, the win improves the women’s record to 8-3-4-3.

As the women’s team looks towards their final six games of the regular season, team captain Kristi Riseley believes the Blues are gaining the momentum they need to be successful in approaching the playoffs. “We just need to keep working hard and playing like we know we can but not underestimating any team, regardless of their standing,” says Riseley. “If we do that, we will have the positive mindset we need to be successful.”

The women return to the ice on February 4, when they take on GTA rivals Ryerson at Varsity Arena. Puck drop is scheduled for 11:00 AM.

Science around town

Your guide to the top science-related events this week

Science around town

Both U of T’s campus and Toronto-general are home to a plethora of science-related events every week. Science Around Town is your guide to the highlights.

GLOBAL MENTAL HEALTH IN AN ERA OF PHARMACEUTICAL PROMOTION

Hosted by the U of T pre-medical society, this discussion will focus on mental health and the accessibility of effective treatment

Monday, February 1

6:00–8:00pm

Bahen Center

40 St. George Street

Rm1190

Admission: $11.20


BIOETHICS SEMINAR

Trudo Lemmens, professor and School chair in Health Law and Policy at U of T will talk about the flaws of the open-ended criteria for physician assisted dying.

Wednesday, February 3

4:10–5:30pm

Health Sciences Building,

155 College St.

Rm106

Admission: Free


WORLD CANCER DAY 2016 – BREAKING THE MOLD: RETHINKING THE CANCER SYSTEM

Join the Ontario Institute for Cancer research and MaRs for a technology expo and a panel discussion about cancer systems. Kenneth Pritzker, professor at the department of Laboratory Medicine and Pathobiology at U of T will be among the speakers.

Thursday, February 4

4:00–8:00pm

MaRS Discovery District,

101 College St.

Room: MaRs centre auditorium

Admission: Free with registration


UTISM 2016 – WORK IN PROGRESS: THE COGNITIVE SCIECE OF DEVELOMENT

The Cognitive Science and Artificial Intelligence Students’ Association hosts a symposium dedicated to the development and study of mind. The symposium features speakers and panelist from psychology, computer science, and philosophy.

Saturday & Sunday, February 6–7

Saturday at 9:00–4:00pm

Sunday at 9:00–4:30pm

Earth Sciences Center,

33 Willcocks St.

Rm1050

Admission: $11.20 -21.80

Science in brief

A round-up of the top science stories from around the university

Science in brief

Dangerous driving

What may seem obvious to any good driver can now be backed up by statistics: dangerous drivers are more likely to hit children on their way to school.

Researchers from York University, the University of Toronto, and The Hospital for Sick Children camped out in front of schools during their morning drop-off hours, measuring pedestrian traffic and scanning the road for hazardous driving habits. Their observations were compared with 12 years of police data on pedestrian-motor vehicle collisions (PMVCs) near Toronto elementary schools. The study revealed that collisions involving children happen more often near schools with dangerous driving trends.

The most common offense? Of the 118 schools studied, 88 per cent displayed instances of unsafe parking and improper drop-offs, such as children being released from the wrong side of the street. Trends were higher in schools near high-speed roadways. Researchers urge the city to employ new strategies to alleviate traffic around school zones.

— Alastair McNamara


 

Study shows depression affects alertness more than lack of sleep

A new study lead by Azmeh Shahid of the Sleep Research Laboratory in U of T’s Department of Psychiatry is the first of its kind to connect depressive symptoms with impaired alertness.   

The researchers used the Toronto Hospital Alertness Tests (THAT), a scale asssessing alertness, to evaluate 60 healthy adults against 264 diagnosed patients. The participants’ average score (on a scale of zero to 50) was around 35 for the control group. A score below 20.5 is the cut-off point for THAT and it indicates “clinically significant” decreases in levels of alterness.   

This cut-off was used to define the patients as either having “normal” or “impaired” alertness. The results showed that daytime sleepiness is not the same as poor alertness, and that depressive symptoms like fatigue had a stronger effect on alertness levels than tiredness. 

Dr. Shahid said the results of the study “did not surprise” the research team, as other clinical patients have been observed to experience daytime sleepiness and alertness at the same time. 

Dr. Shahid explained the results of the study are “very exciting” because THAT can be used to differentiate alertness from sleepiness, which can aid in future studies. The first quantitative definition of “normal levels of alertness” was proposed by the study, but more research is still needed to solidify this definition. 

“I think this will have huge impact in clinical practice,” Dr. Shahid added.

— Sophia Savva 


Don’t Worry, Be Happy

With the loonie sinking and the world economy sputtering, it is hard not to worry about world issues. A new study warns against worrying too much, lest our brains turn to mush. 

Dr. Linda Mah of the University of Toronto and her colleagues examined recent studies of stress and anxiety in animal models and healthy individuals. Surprisingly, they found that chronic stress and anxiety can cause long-lasting damage in the brain.

Stress is a normal part of life, but if anxiety becomes chronic, it can lead to the degeneration and impairment of the brain’s hippocampus and prefrontal cortex. The former is known to play an important role in memory and the regulation of emotions, while the latter has been associated with personality distinction.   

The stress-induced damage to these parts of the brain leads to increased risk for depression and even dementia. 

The study concludes on a hopeful note by suggesting that stress-induced damage is “not completely irreversible.” Antidepressant treatment and physical activity may reverse brain damage, as these treatments have been found to increase the rate of hippocampal recovery. Either way, don’t worry about your worrying.

— Hariyanto Darmawan

Hatchery brings Y Combinator to campus and creates student entrepreneurs

The annual Accelerator Weekend helps 23 teams create sustainable startups

Hatchery brings Y Combinator to campus and creates student entrepreneurs

The U of T Hatchery hosted its annual Accelerator Weekend on January 22 and 23. The event, which featured leaders in entrepreunership from the famed Y Combinator — a top Silicon Valley incubator responsible in part for launching successful ventures such as Dropbox -— was geared towards providing students with advice and mentroship in their own start-up projects. Under the guidance of seasonsed veterans, 23 student teams developed their ideas into viable business models, with the top two taking home $2000, and $1000, respectively.

“The floor is completely open. If you (…) want to stay over night, we’re going to stay over night. If you get tired, we have fifteen gallons of coffee available. We’re going to use every single minute of your energy to create those startups,” said Hatchery founder and Executive Director Joseph Orozco in his opening remarks. “There is lots of food, and places to nap… just don’t go home,” he joked.

The following day was devoted to brainstorming and refining pitches and business models to impress the judges.

“[Some of our] [s]ucessful startups include crowd funding startups, patents being filed, some startups [that] have received grants of over $200,000, we have companies (…) funded by investors [for] over $2 million,” says Orozco.

“Our mission is to see how we can take startups to the next level. That is why we are hosting Y-Combinator here.“

After the preliminary judging on Saturday evening by two panels of experts, six teams were chosen as finalists. After one more round of presentations, the judges convened and declared Touch Down Parking as the winner, while Aurum finished second place.

Students participate in the Accelerator Weekend startup competition at the U of T Hatchery. Courtesy Haman.

Students participate in the Accelerator Weekend startup competition at the U of T Hatchery. Courtesy Haman.

Touch Down Parking’s winning idea was a parking management system that is peer-to-peer and effortless to use.

“Initially, what you would see happening is people who have vacant parking spaces in Toronto renting those spaces out to other people who are commuting into Toronto for a given time period.” says Bryan de Bourbon, one of the members of Touch Down. “In general we would want the parking spaces to be able to be booked so that you can plan your route ahead of time, but in a way that you don’t have to deal with frustratingly trying to find parking spaces — and probably using your phone while you’re driving (…) what we’re trying to reach in the long run is more like an integrated parking system —like the Internet of parking.”

Bryan went on to say that his team’s business would evolve into an intuitive parking solution, seamlessly integrated with route navigation, to transform parking in the city  into a completely stress-free experience.

“It should be as simple as ‘I’m already planning my route, it already knows where I’m going, it should find a spot for me and I will deal with payment and run from my car to where I’m going.’ ”

Second place winner Aurum’s idea was to use noise cancelling technology — typically reserved for commercial aircrafts — to create an at-home system for those living in noisy urban environments.

The system would be installed in the home to cancel noise from sources like busy streets and late night parties in neighbouring apartments.

The activities hosted by The Hatchery allow Joseph to observe the learning process for young entrepreneurs on their journey towards making startup dreams a reality. He believes that now, more than ever, students with an entrepreneurial spirit have the benefit of an inclusive, supportive environment that fosters creativity while encouraging financial success. “What we’re doing is (…) giving the students a real-life alternative of what an entrepreneur does in years. (…) You come here to go through that process that takes five years – in 28 hours. The final product of those 28 hours is a pitch that represents your startup and how you plan to sell it. And, of course, make money.” says Orozco.

As an entrepreneur, Orozco’s first startup was Telequote. For 14 years, it was a financial information network meant to be a smaller competitor to Reuters and Bloomberg.

“There’s no genius in entrepreneurship and I believe that everyone has the sense that they want something of their own and they want to work hard [to make it happen].”

“Sometimes they are afraid of taking risks and [of] not having all the resources. But when you acknowledge those [fears], you are ready to take the risk and there’s no better time (…)[and there is] so much support for young entrepreneurs to give it a try.”

Correction (February 4, 2016): An earlier version of this article misidentified Joseph Orozco.

Secret searches

Can you really be anonymous on the internet?

Secret searches

With internet anonymity becoming increasingly rare, many people find solace in private browsing, such as the experience provided by Google Chrome’s incognito mode. Incognito mode has many uses: preventing nosy trackers from collecting your personal information, sneaking past paywalls, and accessing online porn without a trace. It’s widely known that incognito mode is used to keep users’ sexual search histories under wraps, but incognito may be less secure than many think.

Evan Andersen, a fourth-year engineering student, discovered this the hard way. Recently, Andersen opened his computer intending to play an online game, only to see the porn he viewed in incognito mode hours before pop up on the screen instead. He realized that there was a glitch in his graphic card. “[T]he operating system is supposed to isolate different programs on your computer, so they don’t affect each other,” Andersen explains. “[The] driver should erase memory when it is passed between applications, otherwise, different users on a computer could spy on each other. I complained about [Google Chrome] because I think they should try and fix the problem on their end.” 

Andersen was surprised since he didn’t intend to find the glitch. “Normally, computer security is compromised by an actual attack, not just an accident.”

While Andersen’s experience was caused by a glitch, users of incognito mode should be aware that, even when fully functioning, the browser does not completely mask you. Your Internet provider is still able to see your search history, and the websites you visit can still track your habits. 

Despite that, Andersen believes incognito browsing is enough for the average person. “I think it’s fine if you understand what it is used for, which is privacy from other users of the same computer,” he says. 

Those who want more thorough privacy would have to dive into the deep web.

The deep web is a collection of networks which cannot be found using typical search engines and that encrypt the users’ identity. Users install a deep web browser — like the popular Tor — in order to access it. Of course, not everyone desires anonymity for innocent reasons, and the deep web has attracted a negative reputation. For this reason, security agencies monitor it for evidence of criminal behaviour like child pornography and black market transactions.

The deep web is not inherently malovolent , and it is a good option for anyone who values online privacy.

True anonymity however, doesn’t come simply by installing Tor, and can be a demanding task. Michael Hampton, Internet security expert, suggests not running Tor on Windows, which he sees as a vulnerable operating system, and also advocates against using Google. Instead, he suggests using search engine Startpage. Hampton encourages secrecy seekers to avoid using Tor at or near their homes, and using a laptop as a workstation because it is easier to hide evidence than a desktop, because laptops are more easily destroyed.

Less intense options include installing a virtual private network (VPN), which encrypts the data you send and receive, or installing add-ons like ‘HTTPS Everywhere’, which makes websites default to using the more secure HTTPS protocol.

Achieving online anonymity is a rigorous process, which is difficult, and can require a serious investment of time and money. For those who choose to invest in online privacy, it is best to remember that nothing done on the Internet is truly private. Accordingly, Internet users should be mindful of what we share and the sites we visit.

Women get WISE at annual conference

U of T WISE 2016 National Conference proves to be a great opportunity for students to connect with professionals

Women get WISE at annual conference

U of T Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) hosted its annual national conference at the Toronto region board of trade last weekend. The conference brought together industry experts and approximately 250 student attendees for on opportunity to participate and connect with professionals.

Jaquelyn Monis, the conference chair of WISE 2016 explained that their objective was not only to provide professional development, but also to connect students with companies hiring for summer internships. 

“This year we have 15 different companies, compare[d] to two or three in the past years” said Monis in reference to industry attendance at the event.

The 2016 WISE Conference featured keynote speaker Jacqueline Shan, founder of Afinity Life Sciences, who spoke during the opening ceremony.

Shan opened by sharing her experience as an international student who struggled with English as a second language, and how she overcame barriers and prosper as an entrepreneur and scientist.

She delivered a powerful speech, promoting persistence and perseverance in her pursuit of success.

“It’s simple, but often hard to do. It’s hard to believe in yourself, believe in your dream when you’re laying off your co-workers,” Shan added. 

In addition to providing networking opportunities for students, the WISE conference also featured a group of panelists, including Cathy Tie, co-founder and CEO of Ranomics.

Cathy was a first-year life sciences student at U of T when she received venture capital funding in 2015 for her project. She spoke to attendees about what she learned from the experience and why it’s so important to have self confidence in order to move forward.

“Even though it’s a chapter of women in science and engineering, one of our messages is to [be] inclusive of everybody and to showcase that it’s possible to get far regardless of gender,” said Monis. 

As a fourth-year student, Monis expressed excitement to hear from the speakers on their diverse experiences.   

On its second day, the WISE conference closed its doors following the announcement of the winners of their poster and case competitions.

The WISE 2016 National Conference Poster Competition, sponsored by General Electric, gave students an opportunity to present their research to judges for the chance to win a $1000 cash prize. Sahil Gupta, graduate student at the U of T’s  Institute of Medical Sciences, was announced as the winner for his research in Heat Shock Protein 90 (HSP90) in relation to sepsis and experimental inflammation. 

Amada Persaud, Eashita Ratwani, Nadia Khan, and Shawna Wei were the winners of the case competition, earning the $1000 prize and an interview opportunity for a position at Tata Consultancy Services, another of the competition’s corporate sponsors.

Throughout the school year, WISE at U of T is also involved in other initiatives such as providing opportunites for professional development, mentorships, high school, as well as community outreach. With initiatives like its annual conference, WISE continues to try to improve the state of women in science and engineering.