WiSTEM encourages, mentors WSU women in STEM

By Will Ferguson, College of Arts & Sciences

wistem-logoPULLMAN, Wash. – As a sophomore transfer student, Elizabeth Magill wanted to start on the path to graduate school right away.

“I was really passionate about my zoology studies but didn’t know how to get involved outside of class,” she said. “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 that guidance, Magill is helping other students by participating in the WiSTEM initiative – Women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics – at Washington State University.

Monthly networking, community of support

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

Senior biological sciences major Elizabeth Magill extracts RNA from potato beetle tissue in the Snyder Entomology Laboratory at WSU.

“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.”

WiSTEM hosts informal meetings the second Wednesday of most months where undergraduates can talk with faculty and peers about their concerns, challenges and successes. The next WiSTEM Wednesday is 4:10-5 p.m. Nov. 16 in Eastlick 171.

“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.

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.

Powerful role models

Earlier this semester, WiSTEM hosted prominent female scientists at WSU who spoke about the issues they faced as undergraduates and how they solved them.

Noel Schulz, professor of engineering and WSU first lady, addresses students at a WiSTEM Week of Welcome event.

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,” she said. “Each of us has different talents, and you have to remember it is not a weakness to ask for help.”

“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.”

For more information, contact Davis at 509-335-2300 or jenny.davis@wsu.edu.