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Praxair gift allows WiSE to expand support for women in STEM

At UB, about 800 women currently take part in WiSE — 250 of whom joined this year as freshmen. This group was photographed at a WiSE event in the Student Union.

By LAURA HERNANDEZ and SUE WUETCHER

Published March 17, 2017

Women in Science and Engineering
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The WiSE program supports women pursuing degrees in STEM fields and celebrates their successes.

“When you have friends or peers that are in similar majors as you or are in the same classes as you and have similar struggles, then you don’t really feel alone and you feel like you can work together and actually accomplish your goals.”
Elizabeth Quaye, pharmacology and toxicology major, and participant
Women in Science and Engineering program

It can be challenging being a woman in a STEM field, where men still outnumber their female counterparts by large numbers.

But women pursuing degrees in science, technology, engineering and math at UB have the WiSE (Women in Science and Engineering) program to support them and celebrate their successes.

And that support will expand dramatically, thanks to a five-year, $15,000-a-year grant to WiSE from Praxair Inc.’s Global Giving Program.

The funding from Praxair will be used to create an advisory board comprised of UB alumnae who work in STEM fields. The board’s goal is to better inform WiSE programming and ensure that students receive the training and opportunities they need to navigate these challenging fields, according to Danielle Lewis, WiSE program coordinator.

The gift also will provide small grants to WiSE students “to encourage them to produce their own research and make them more competitive for national fellowships and scholarships,” Lewis says.

A collaboration between the College of Arts and Sciences and the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, WiSE aims to increase the recruitment, retention and success of women pursuing STEM careers.

Liesl Folks, dean of UB Engineering, says that nationwide, women are underrepresented in all the STEM disciplines, noting that in the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, women make up about 20 percent of each graduating class.

“We want to address that at UB, but we want to address it nationwide as well,” she says.

Robin Schulze, dean of CAS, agrees. “If we have any system in this country or beyond in the world where only men are working in it, you’re not getting the variety of perspectives that you really need to solve problems,” she says. “For me, this is a huge bullet point in the College of Arts and Sciences. We really need to develop female leaders in STEM fields so their voices get heard in solving the critical problems of the future.”

At UB, about 800 women currently take part in WiSE — 250 of whom joined this year as freshmen.

And while programs like WiSE at many institutions are open only to a select group of high-performing women, UB’s WiSE is open to anyone enrolled in a STEM major, Folks says, with a goal of providing “a supportive environment for young women coming into the STEM disciplines.”

Cynthia Hoover, executive director of R&D at Praxair, notes WiSE is “in line with Praxair’s commitment to diversity and inclusion. We are committed to ensuring that the best talent is at the table and every voice is heard,” she says.

For WiSE participant Elizabeth Quaye, a pharmacology and toxicology major, this support is crucial. “When you have friends or peers that are in similar majors as you or are in the same classes as you and have similar struggles, then you don’t really feel alone and you feel like you can work together and actually accomplish your goals,” she says.

Parveen Attai, a biomedical sciences major, says she appreciates WiSE because “seeing women faculty here at UB really inspires me and motivates me because I know that will be me one day.”

Founded in 2014 and supported by $50,000 in seed funding from the President’s Circle Fund, WiSE organizes a variety of programs throughout the academic year. Students can network with faculty and peers, discover resources available on campus, attend guest lectures and create or join study groups. Specifically:  

  • The Catalyst program allows students to move into their residence halls before the start of the fall semester, meet their peers, interact with female STEM faculty and take part in team-building activities and a WiSE orientation session.
  • Guest lectures and the Brown Bag Lunch Series provide opportunities for students to learn more about STEM fields, internships and research opportunities, and other resources available on campus.
  • The “WiSE and Shine” breakfast meetups offer students the chance to meet and interact with female STEM faculty members and fellow STEM students while enjoying a free breakfast.

It’s that “sense of community” fostered by WiSE that appeals to Kaetlin McGee, a senior mechanical engineering major, and Beverly DiCorso, a biomedical sciences major minoring in pharmacology and toxicology, and theatre.

“(WiSE) has helped me be more outgoing and be more involved on campus,” McGee says. “It is great to see so many enthusiastic students entering the program and give them advice on how to succeed at UB.”

Adds DiCorso: “I have made many memories with the girls whom I have met through this program, and friendships that will last a lifetime.”

DiCorso also is involved in WiSE’s community outreach activities, serving as chair of its Outreach Committee. “I have enjoyed each moment of working with students in the community and sharing with them my love of science and how to have fun with it,” she says.

The committee last spring organized an afternoon of science for the Gloria J. Parks Community Center’s after-school program, where children in grades K-8 made lava lamps, electromagnets and ooblecks, among other activities. This past fall, the group organized a shadow day during which local high school students attended lectures, as well as a Q&A panel, with UB students.

WiSE students also volunteer at Tech Savvy, a nationwide program to introduce middle school and high school girls to STEM fields through role models and workshops. Tech Savvy was founded in Western New York by Praxair employee Tamara Brown, who who later expanded the program nationally. Praxair has supported Tech Savvy, along with the Buffalo branch of the American Association of University Women, for many years.

“I actually attended this event when I was in seventh grade,” DiCorso says, “and it feels amazing to be a part of the team that puts on such a wonderful day for the girls.”

Folks notes that one of the advantages of attending a research-intensive university like UB is that students have the opportunity to take part in experiential learning in campus research labs. “One of the things that WiSE does is facilitate discussions between students and faculty to open the doors,” she says.

Lewis says the Praxair gift will “help to create a culture where female students in STEM at UB expect to engage in research early in their undergraduate careers, and that opportunity — along with the other components of the WiSE program — could make UB the destination for women in STEM.”

Lewis adds that Praxair’s funding also will allow WiSE to expand its offerings to even more students. For example, 75 students attended last fall’s Catalyst program at no charge. “Praxair’s contribution will allow us to offer this opportunity to a larger number of WiSE students,” she says.

WiSE, Schulze notes, is “the program of the future” for women interested in the STEM fields.

“We are going to train them for the truly diverse world in which they’re going to walk, in a group environment, in an interdisciplinary way,” she says. “We are dedicated to women’s success.”

For more information about WiSE, visit the program’s website.