Encouraging female involvement in STEM fields via mentorship in Phoenix
Women remain systemically underrepresented in STEM fields and careers. According to the National Science Foundation, women account for only 28 percent of the workers in science and engineering fields. However, Arizona lags behind the national average, with women making up only 27.1 percent of the STEM workforce. Research on women’s success in STEM fields indicates that mentorship can have a direct and positive impact on women’s enrollment, persistence, and success in STEM fields during their academic journeys and into the workforce. However, a large-scale mentorship program that specifically targets female STEM students did not exist at the University of Arizona (UA).
Fostering the success of women in STEM education and careers
Microsoft contributed $5,000 to the University of Arizona Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) program, to be used for the fall 2019 and spring 2020 school terms. The funding is being used to develop and implement a one-to-one mentorship program that pairs female UA students pursuing STEM degrees with STEM industry professionals.
The WISE program at UA encourages the entry and persistence of women in STEM fields at the school and into the workforce. WISE’s programs aim to help young women gain concrete skills that will help them succeed, while also working to create an institutional climate that supports women and other underrepresented groups.
Providing structured support to female STEM students
The University of Arizona Women in STEM Student Council (WiSSC) is a new student-centered, student-led initiative of WISE. WiSSC strives to develop a diverse and inclusive STEM workforce by creating and implementing targeted programs that support the recruitment, retention, and graduation of female-identifying students pursuing STEM degrees at UA. This initiative aims to create the largest student-focused institutionalized effort directed at supporting the entry and success of women in STEM fields at any university in the United States, making the school a leader in creating diverse and inclusive STEM communities.
Unlike many existing programs that support women in particular STEM fields (like computer science or engineering), WiSSC is transdisciplinary. WiSSC works across all STEM colleges and departments at UA to ensure that women in all fields and majors have access to supportive programs, while also fostering the development of a broad ecosystem of individuals committed to creating more diverse and inclusive STEM communities. WiSSC activities are directed by an elected board of undergraduate and graduate students and are made possible through the institutional and administrative support provided by the WISE program. This structure ensures that programming and policy initiatives are responsive to student needs, but also sustainable over time as students move through and beyond the university.
During the 2019–20 academic year, WiSSC launched a number of new programs aimed at supporting the recruitment, retention, and success of female STEM students. In particular, funds from Microsoft will be directed toward the creation of a mentorship program that initially links 60 female UA students pursuing STEM degrees with 60 STEM professionals.
Using mentorship to improve STEM retention rates for women
The funding from Microsoft will enable WiSSC and WISE to directly engage 50 percent more individuals as program participants than funding would otherwise allow. This funding also enables broader recruitment efforts to target students who otherwise may not be reached. The group aims to enroll UA students from at least five of the UA STEM colleges and for student participants to represent the racial and ethnic diversity of UA. With Microsoft’s support, WISE will also recruit mentors from a diverse set of STEM industries in the Tucson metro area, including tech, biomedicine, healthcare, energy, and engineering. Using funding received from Microsoft, as well as the Microsoft name and brand, will help the organization engage other industry and community partners as they build a network of program sponsors and mentors.
The program launch event and initial mentor/mentee training took place on September 21, 2019. The 120 sponsors and mentors participants had the opportunity to participate in interactive training around best practices for building productive mentor/mentee relationships. Moving forward, the pairs will meet for an hour each month to build relationships, increase motivation and confidence, and improve feelings of connectedness within the STEM community. Says Jill Williams, Director of WISE, “We greatly appreciate the support from Microsoft and are excited to see it enable so many women in STEM to build relationships and support networks that will be key to fostering their success at UA and into the workforce.”
“We greatly appreciate the support from Microsoft and are excited to see it enable so many women in STEM to build relationships and support networks that will be key to fostering their success at UA and into the workforce.”—Jill Williams, Director of WISE