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CAS Connect October 2016

WiSTEM serves WSU women in STEM

As a sophomore transfer student, Elizabeth Magill wanted to get started on the path to graduate school right away.

Elizabeth Magill working in a laboratory at WSU.
Biological sciences major Elizabeth Magill extracts RNA from potato beetle tissue in the Snyder Entomology Laboratory at WSU.

“I was really passionate about my zoology studies but didn’t know how to get involved outside of class,” said Magill, who transferred to WSU in 2014 and is now a senior. “Then, in my junior year, I met two female graduate teaching assistants. They gave me direction, helped me get a job in a zoology lab, and are still my friends and mentors today.”

In appreciation for the mentoring and guidance she received, Magill is now helping other students by participating in a new initiative called WiSTEM, Women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics.

The School of Biological Sciences (SBS) launched WiSTEM this fall to connect young women interested in STEM careers with mentors, networking opportunities, and a supportive community of like-minded individuals.

“Recent studies have shown that new college students are more likely to achieve academic success if they find supportive communities,” said Jenny Davis, WiSTEM founder and an SBS academic coordinator. “Our initiative will help first-year and transfer students connect with successful mentors and provide a community of support.”

Powerful role models
Noel Schultz, professor of engineering and WSU first lady, addresses a WiSTEM Wednesday crowd.
Noel Schultz, professor of engineering and WSU first lady, addresses participants in WiSTEM Week of Welcome events.

WiSTEM kicked off the semester with a Week of Welcome event where prominent female scientists at WSU spoke about the issues they faced as undergraduates and how they solved them.

Keynote speaker Noel Schulz, WSU’s first lady and a professor in the School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, stressed the importance of goal setting, dealing with challenges, and having a strong support system. She emphasized the impact a role model can have on young women in fields where they often are vastly outnumbered by male colleagues.

“Talk to your professors and build a network of peers and mentors to discuss things like what classes to take and not to take at the same time,” Schulz said. “Each of us has different talents and you have to remember it is not a weakness to ask for help.”

WSU women faculty in STEM fields enjoy a laugh with a WiSTEM Wednesday audience.
A panel of WSU women faculty in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics share a laugh with their WiSTEM audience.

To help connect students with potential mentors and other opportunities, WiSTEM hosts informal meetings the second Wednesday of most months where undergraduates can talk with faculty and peers about their concerns, challenges, and successes. “Underclassmen can ask a wide variety of professors, graduate students, and upperclassmen anything they want to get more direction,” Magill said.

“At the first WiSTEM Wednesday, there was a freshman girl who was interested in vet school. I let her know about a couple of the clubs she could get involved with, and she told me it was really helpful, which is exactly the reason we’re here,” Magill said.

“Our goal is to stimulate a broad conversation about how we can meet the challenges specific to women at universities in the sciences and STEM disciplines,” Davis said. “The School of Biological Sciences, the College of Arts and Sciences, and WSU as a whole are committed to leading and supporting initiatives that improve success for women students and faculty.”

Events and opportunities

The next WiSTEM Wednesday is Nov. 16 from 4:10 to 5:00 p.m. in Eastlick 171.

Additionally, on Tuesday, Oct. 18, WiSTEM and the Department of English will host a visit by Eileen Pollack, award-winning author of “The only Woman in the Room: Why Science is Still a Boys’ Club.”

Activities include a talk and panel discussion about issues raised in the book at 4:10 p.m. in Eastlick 171 and a reading by the author at 5:00 p.m. in the Museum of Art/WSU.

WiSTEM also is supporting the new WSU student chapter of Scientista, a national organization that empowers pre-professional women in STEM through content, communities, and conferences.

For more information, visit the WiSTEM website or email wistem@wsu.edu.

Washington State University