By Nicole Capozziello
Published May 9, 2022
A new mentorship program for female high school students interested in pursuing STEM degrees will launch this fall, thanks to funding from Amazon.
Since it started in 2014, Women in Science and Engineering (WiSE) has been providing support, professional development and extracurricular opportunities to students in the sciences, math, and engineering at the University at Buffalo.
Through a wide range of programming, women in STEM fields connect with classmates and faculty, gain mentors, and learn skills for their future careers. However, thus far, WiSE’s impactful programming has mostly focused on current college students.
Now, a new $50,000 grant from Amazon will enable WiSE to extend its reach to high school students, helping to strengthen the pipeline for women to enter STEM fields. Called the UB WiSE STEM Outreach Program, the grant will enable WiSE to partner with five local school districts in the greater Buffalo area to build a new mentorship program.
“WiSE continues to gain momentum as we adapt to and come out of the Covid-19 pandemic,” says Virginia Stever, WiSE program director. “We are continuing to explore new ways to recruit, retain and advance women in STEM fields and we’re excited about how this outreach program will strengthen our mission.”
Beginning in the fall of 2022, current WiSE students will share their personal journeys in STEM education with groups of female students at the selected high schools in a large group setting. Following this, each school will identify up to four students to participate in a six-week mentoring program at the high school, with the UB WiSE students serving as the mentors.
“UB students serving as mentors for the new outreach program will share their experiences in a STEM discipline with high school students. Discussions can surround effective time management, creating effective study habits, and adapting to college,” says Marina Blanton, WiSE faculty director and an associate professor in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering. “We hope that by connecting students of similar demographics, we will form meaningful relationships and encourage women to participate in STEM disciplines."
At the end of the sessions, the mentees and high school staff will visit UB for an all-day session which will include shadowing their mentor, a campus tour and lab visits, as well as other opportunities to connect with members of the UB community. They will return to campus six months later for a follow-up info session focused on STEM fields and choosing a STEM program in college.
The team will also analyze data from this project using machine learning techniques.
“Data collection and analysis will allow us to build mechanisms for understanding the effectiveness of this and other efforts. We would like to be able to evaluate the impact by measuring the increase in the likelihood of female students choosing careers in STEM,” adds Blanton.
The grant will support all aspects of the program, including materials for promotion, mentor stipends, training, meals and transportation, and a graduate student assistant.