Campus News

Local companies make ‘WiSE’ investment

A participant in a WiSE social event plants a succulent in a clay pot.

To kick off the spring 2020 semester, WiSE hosted an evening social event of succulent planting, bringing over 120 students to the atrium in Davis Hall. Photo: Max Kapitonoff


Published July 2, 2020

“Helping students connect the dots and identify their network, and the resources available to aid in their success from day one can mean the difference between isolation and belonging. ”
Chelsea Montrois, program coordinator
Women in Science and Engineering

Three local companies are doing their part to narrow the gender gap in science and engineering.

M&T Bank and Verizon Media have joined Linde (formerly Praxair) in sponsoring UB’s Women in Science and Engineering program, support that will enable WiSE to expand programming and provide more opportunities to female students in STEM than ever before.

“The heart of WiSE is fostering a sense of belonging,” says Chelsea Montrois, WiSE program coordinator. “And with this extended base of support, we are so grateful that we can keep that going ─ and grow the reach and impact of WiSE even more.”

The partnerships with Linde, Verizon Media and M&T Bank will expand professional development programming, strengthening the bridge to industry for female students.

WiSE students will be able to connect with members of the companies’ affinity groups, creating opportunities for mentorship and knowledge-sharing at companies with a demonstrated commitment to diversity.

“We love the University at Buffalo’s support for programs like WiSE, and their commitment to women in STEM fields,” says Kylie Henderson, operations center manager at Verizon Media. “Since it’s an ongoing program, students participating in WiSE are consistently encouraged from first-year check-in through graduation and beyond. We wanted to take part in a program that we can contribute to and grow over time.”

“It’s important to support the development of the next generation of leaders,” adds Laurie Brewer, senior technology manager at M&T Bank. “Together with the University at Buffalo, we want to inspire girls to embrace STEM learning and a potential career by developing their passion for science and engineering early. Ultimately, they may become my colleagues.”

“I'm grateful for the visionary leadership of our partners Linde, Verizon Media and M&T Bank to be part of such an important initiative in the School of Engineering and Applied Science.  Fundamentally, the programs in WiSE are representative of our collective effort in SEAS to ensure that all of our students feel known during their time at UB through innovative educational, experiential and community opportunities,” says Kemper Lewis, dean of the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.    

Since 2014, WiSE has been boosting female students in STEM majors at UB by providing a combination of support and stimulating extracurricular opportunities on and off campus. Launched with seed funding from the President’s Circle, WiSE is a partnership between the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and the College of Arts and Sciences.

According to the Society of Women Engineers, 32% of women who start off in STEM switch to other programs during their college careers. In addition, while women make up about half of the college-educated workforce in the U.S., they make up only 28% of the science and engineering workforce.

“Diversity and inclusion are core principles at Linde, where we have the goal of having 30% female employees at all levels of our organization by 2030. In order to achieve this goal, it is critical that we have a robust pipeline of high performing female engineers and scientists from the University at Buffalo,” says Cindi Hoover, executive director, Chemical Technology R&D, at Linde. “As an inaugural supporter of WiSE, we are making investments to help the university reach their diversity targets, which, in turn, helps us and the entire field.”

Rajan Batta, SUNY Distinguished Professor of Industrial and Systems Engineering and associate dean for faculty affairs and diversity, notes that as part of its diversity goals, the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences is actively working to increase the percentage of female students in its undergraduate programs. “To do this, we need efforts that are aimed at not only recruiting more female undergraduate students, but also retaining them,” Batta says.

“I believe that WiSE and its activities are especially critical to retaining female students, and that showcasing WiSE activities will help us attract admitted female students who know they’ll be supported.”

WiSE currently hosts more than 40 events a year to engage, educate and build community. These range from alumni-student dinners, which drew about 25 current students and 25 alumni last fall, to study groups and the Coffee and Conversation series, where students take part in a discussion led by a female faculty member over coffee and doughnuts.

Female freshmen STEM students gathering around an outside table at the early move-in event in 2019.

Students gather in August 2019 for the Early Move-In program, a cornerstone of WiSE programming that encourages incoming female freshmen to settle into campus early and connect with their peers, network with faculty members, and take part in teambuilding activities. WiSE officials are still working out the details of this year's move-in, which will take into account the new health and safety protocols that will be in place on campus due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Photo: Onion Studio Inc.

These activities give students a much-needed break and bring them together with other women in STEM ─ faculty and staff, alumnae and members of sponsor organizations, as well as fellow students.

“We want to introduce WiSE members to engineering opportunities at Verizon Media ─ not only at our Lockport location but globally,” says Henderson. “We’re planning on holding on-site tours and learning events to demonstrate how our data center and operations center teams keep Verizon Media running.”

Future goals of WiSE include adding a formal mentorship program, and using or building a system that tracks WiSE students to measure the program’s success and determine growth opportunities.

Montrois says she’s especially excited to roll out the new WiSE Ambassadors program, which aims to hire 20 WiSE sophomores and juniors from a variety of majors to serve as formal liaisons at events and remotely. Building on WiSE’s strength in peer connection, students will have the opportunity to share their firsthand experiences in their respective majors, as members of WiSE, and at UB, and contribute overall to increasing the visibility of the program and its participants, she says.

“The gender imbalance in STEM may still mean that a WiSE student is the only woman in one of her classes, but she is certainly not alone at UB,” says Montrois. “Helping students connect the dots and identify their network, and the resources available to aid in their success from day one can mean the difference between isolation and belonging.”