Women of Hawai‘i Astronomy Community Gather to ‘Press for Progress’

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More than 100 women from the Hawai‘i Island astronomy community gathered at ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center on Friday evening, Mar. 2, to mark International Women’s Day and recognize their critical roles in supporting the Maunakea observatories.

Organized by EA Observatory/James Clerk Maxwell Telescope (EAO/JCMT) on behalf of the Maunakea observatories, the event was intended to form stronger ties in the community and support women who are working in scientific fields throughout the island. Hawai‘i is home to more female astronomers than any place else in the world, according to Jessica Dempsey, acting deputy director of EAO/JCMT.

“Maunakea astronomy is an incredible home for innovation and meaningful work in clean, high-tech fields—full of opportunities for those who are smart, driven and up to the challenge,” said Dempsey, who was a key organizer for the event. “These women, assembled this evening, are examples of what is possible when intelligence and drive are combined with the willpower to change the face of a historically male-dominated industry.”


During a keynote speech to attendees, Dempsey recounted a defining moment that inspired her to pursue her doctorate in astrophysics: “For me, the drive to succeed in science was instilled in me by a helpful university professor. As a first year physics student, I asked him a question on the lecture. Instead of answering, he patted me on the head and consoled me: ‘Don’t worry about it. Women really aren’t capable of understanding the hard sciences. It’s not your fault.’ It was the most inspirational thing anyone has ever told me.”

Dempsey said she hoped the event would be the start of a series of initiatives intended to energize and engage young women in the astronomy community, and the wider community.

Several Hawai‘i Island librarians who attended the event were each presented with a new copy of the illustrated book “Women in Science: 50 Fearless Pioneers Who Changed the World.” Tailored for youth ages 10 to 17, the book will be available for loan at public libraries islandwide.


“The future of Maunakea should be held in the hands of the young people of these islands,” Dempsey added. “Half of these future leaders driving the cultural, scientific, spiritual and environmental preservation of this special place should be women.”

International Women’s Day will be held on Mar. 8 this year and focus on the theme of #pressforprogress.

Women in all roles supporting Maunakea astronomy huddle for a group photo in the lobby at ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center to mark International Women’s Day. PC: Chris Yoakum

Librarians are presented with a book for Hawai‘i Island public libraries: “Women in Science: 50 Fearless Pioneers Who Changed the World.” PC: Chris Yoakum

EAO/JCMT Deputy Director Jessica Dempsey. PC: Chris Yoakum.

Attendees of the Women in Astronomy event gather to hear a keynote speech by EAO/JCMT Deputy Director Jessica Dempsey. PC: Chris Yoakum

PC: Chris Yoakum

PC: Chris Yoakum

PC: Chris Yoakum

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