Female Science Gurus Become Mentors For Undergrad Girls

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Women in Technology Sharing Online (WitsOn) is a new six-week pilot program that will connect undergraduate students with prominent female online mentors in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields. The program is sponsored by Maria Klawe, president of Harvey Mudd College, and will begin October 1.

The New York Times reports that even though women earn more college degrees than men, they claim less than 20 percent of the undergraduate degrees in STEM fields.

Undergraduates at participating universities can submit questions to the online mentors, and receive answers, advice and maybe even job offers. Prominent mentors include Mae C. Jemison, the first black female astronaut and Jacqueline K. Barton, the chairwoman of the chemistry department at Caltech.

Dr. Erin Cadwalader, Public Policy Fellow at the Association for Women in Science, said her organization was thrilled to hear about the program. She says it’s important for women in science fields to see and interact with successful role models. “Feeling like you belong is a huge part of it, and it has a huge impact on whether women choose to go into these fields,” she said.

She said the most important thing a mentor could tell an undergraduate student would be to stress what makes science attractive in the first place, and to show young women that she is intellectually satisfied and has high job satisfaction. “You don’t want to spend your whole life fighting against the current. It’s important to know that there are lots of happy women in science,” she said.

Cadwalader says the program has great potential if it proves to be successful, and would like to see the idea expanded to reach women in all stages of their professional pathway: postdoctoral students, graduate students and even women applying for positions as professors in universities. “One of the big problems isn’t getting women into STEM jobs, but the many reasons why they drop out of the pipeline: lack of recognition, work-life satisfaction, or in engineering they feel isolated because they’re a minority… It doesn’t create an environment they want to stay in,” she said. “Helping women help other women is key to moving that forward,” she said.

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