by Nicole Capozziello
Published April 6, 2020
Three local companies are doing their part to narrow the gender gap in science and engineering. M&T Bank and Verizon Media join Linde (formerly Praxair) in sponsoring UB’s Women in Science and Engineering program, known as WiSE.
Their support will enable WiSE to expand programming and provide deeper support 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 build up 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. In addition, the students are exposed to opportunities 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,” says 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!”
Since 2014, WiSE (Women in Science and Engineering) has been building up female students in STEM majors at UB by providing a combination of support and stimulating extracurricular opportunities on and off-campus. Launched with the support of seed funding from the Presidents’ 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 (SWE), 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 percent 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.”
“The School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, as part of its diversity goals, 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,” says Rajan Batta, interim dean of the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. “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 over 40 events a year to engage, educate and build community, from their semester Alumni-Student dinners, which drew about 25 current students and 25 alumni last fall, to study groups, to the WiSE Coffee and Conversation series, where students engage in a discussion led by a female faculty member over coffee and donuts.
These activities give students a much-needed break–and they bring them together with other women in STEM, whether they’re fellow students, faculty and staff, alumni or engaged members of sponsor organizations.
“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 using or building a system that tracks WiSE students, helps to measure the program’s success and illuminates growth opportunities, and adding a formal mentorship program.
“I’m especially excited to roll out the WiSE Ambassadors program this semester,” says Montrois. This new program will 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 of peer connection, students will have the opportunity to share their firsthand experiences in their respective majors, as members of WiSE, and at UB, and overall contribute to increasing the visibility of the program and its participants.
“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.”