WISP kicks off year with orientation programming
By Naomi Sosner
Published on Friday, October 20, 2006
Women have been traditionally underrepresented in the percentage of science, math and engineering degrees awarded at colleges across the country. While this gender gap is shrinking, it is still a problem at Dartmouth. The Women in Science Project, which attempts to change this statistic and sponsors programs like the Peer Mentoring Program, held its kickoff orientation event Thursday.
PMP, co-coordinated by Manida Wungjiranirun '07 and Meghan Feely '08, introduced mentors to their mentees and included a faculty panel discussion about their experiences as women scientists at the event.
"The whole issue is that women don't perceive their ability the same way men do," Kathy Scott Weaver, director of the Women in Science Project, said. "Even with all this effort to diversify, in computer science, engineering, math and physics women are still incredibly underrepresented."
Initiated in 1992 by two female science majors who are members of the Class of 1993, the PMP is WISP's biggest program, matching first-years with upperclassmen who act as mentors based on majors, academic interests and extracurricular activities. Mentors act as guides for the new students, both in the academic and social realms.
"I think as a college student everyone goes through ups and downs," Wungjiranirun said. "I hope the mentor can be there to guide them through challenges ... in terms of science or anything."
WISP is responsible for acting as a network in which women involved in science, engineering and math can meet professionals in those fields who can help them develop their interests or provide work opportunities. One of WISP's programs is the First-Year Research Internship, in which freshmen interview for paid lab research internships for the Winter and Spring terms.
WISP also aims to provide a community for women who share common career goals.
"Sometimes what women in science just need is time to relax ... these are people who work extremely hard, and connecting them is so important," Weaver said.
The numbers of women participating in science has changed dramatically in past decades, morphing from a nearly non-existent percentage to its significantly higher percentage today. This upward shift has been attributed to efforts to diversify combined with upheavals in social thinking and upbringing.
"Things were a lot more challenging in those times, not having role models or mentors in my field," biology professor and WISP faculty adviser Sharon Bickel said.
Though the gender gap in the sciences has been shrinking, there are still huge disparities between men and women in specfic disciplines, especially in undergraduate majors at Dartmouth, according to Laura Conkey, geography professor and chair of the WISP faculty advisory committee.
Feely and Wungjiranirun, who have both been involved with WISP since their freshman years, began working this summer to prepare for the PMP, organizing a database of interested people and beginning to recruit incoming freshmen.
"Coming in, my science classes were so big, and it was just harder," Wungjiranirun said. "It was nice knowing that there was another resource for women in science, just knowing that you're not alone."