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  • Katy Croff Bell

IF/THEN Statues on the National Mall

In celebration of Women's Futures Month, the Smithsonian Institution hosted #IfThenSheCan – The Exhibit, the largest number of women statues ever assembled in one location, at one time. This exhibit is part of the AAAS IF/THEN Ambassador initiative because "a 2016 study led by former US Treasurer Rosie Rios found that the ten largest US cities publicly displayed fewer than six statues of real women." I was honored to be included as one of the 122 3-D printed statues of contemporary female STEM professionals and role models from various industries, including exploration, entertainment, sports, business, and academia.



In March, my family road-tripped to Washington, DC, to see my statue at the National Museum of Natural History. I expected it to be a cool experience, but it isn't easy to articulate how powerful it was to see so many women honored in a place that generally has few (if any) statues of women.


My first trip to DC was with my Dad when I was 11 years old. If someone had told me 30 years ago when I went to the Smithsonian for the first time that a statue of *me* would be standing in those hallowed halls, I probably wouldn't have believed it.


Many of the other statues are holding symbols of their work–microscope, globe, shovel, and brain to name a few. I couldn’t bring a ship or big ROV with me so I went small–on one wrist is a felt bracelet that my then-4yr old daughter made for me and my MIT Brass Rat…and on the other is my Vostok Amphibia, the same watch that Steve Zissou wears in The Life Aquatic, which was a gift from my husband (with advice from my brother).


The most incredible part of the trip, however, was the impact of the exhibition on others, particularly my daughter, who hugged big orange me as soon as we arrived. She could have spent a week finding and learning about women in STEM, many of whom I have the pleasure of knowing and working with throughout my career (Allison Fundis, Jess Cramp, and many more!).


We met a lovely family from Austin with three young children who were in awe that they met one of the orange statues in real life!! I also overheard many, many people reading about the statues throughout the city and commenting on how amazing the exhibit was.


I can’t wait for my baby son to not even know what a huge deal this exhibit is–because, hopefully, he will just think that gender representation like this is normal.


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