The University Record, May 10, 1993

Housing, CEW create living-learning environment to support women in science, engineering

By Rebecca A. Doyle

A collaboration between the Center for the Education of Women and the Housing Division, with valuable input from the Office of the Vice President for Student Affairs, will be evident this fall in a new program designed to bring together women students interested in science, engineering and mathematics.

The Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) program will house 50 first-year women students in a wing of Couzens Residence Hall, providing a supportive environment for the living-learning experience.

The concept has become so popular, says Cinda Davis, CEW program director, that plans already have been made to accommodate 100 women in fall 1994. In fact, she says, “Some students are using the WISE program as a yardstick to decide which schools they will attend.”

Couzens was chosen for the program because it has ample space for workshops and career seminars, Davis notes.

“At a survey of incoming students last year, we asked if students would be interested in this program and there was a high level of interest. Respondents said they would prefer a coed dorm instead of one that housed only women, and that the idea of workshops and classes in the residence hall was very attractive to them.

“We will organize evening career workshops, whatever students feel they need—like peer study groups,” Davis says. “We hope to create a community of scholars, a small college in a large university, of women who have similar interests and ambitions.”

John Heidke, director of residence education, agrees that the residential learning concept is an important one, especially in the science and engineering fields where women traditionally have been underrepresented in both higher education and industry.

“There have been small interventions through the years in terms of concerned faculty and administration coming together to talk about cultural issues that historically have discouraged women in these professions,” he says. “For the past several years, there have been more informal programs to bring faculty mentors together with emerging professionals—and the students have been delighted.

“By bringing these emerging professionals together with faculty, staff and professional women as models in one place, there is a critical mass. They see there is kinship and [the environment] is supportive, enlightening and encouraging.”

Davis hopes that the program will grow to include second-year students so they can become mentors for incoming women in the WISE program by fall term 1994. A supportive environment with lots of mentoring, she says, ensures the best learning environment for first-year women trying to compete in hard science fields.

The environment, she hopes, will be similar to that of an engineering fraternity house described to her by College of Engineering Dean Peter M. Banks:

“He said that when he lived in an engineering fraternity house, if anybody flunked out the rent would go up, so the ‘uppers’ made sure that freshmen didn’t.”