Girls’ E-Mentoring in Science, Engineering, and Technology Based at the University of Illinois at Chicago Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) Program

Girls’ E-Mentoring in Science, Engineering, and Technology Based at the University of Illinois at Chicago Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) Program

Sarah Shirk (University of Illinois at Chicago, USA), Veronica Arreola (University of Illinois at Chicago, USA), Carly Wobig (University of Illinois at Chicago, USA) and Karima Russell (University of Illinois at Chicago, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61350-456-7.ch505
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Abstract

The Girls’ E-Mentoring in Science, Engineering, and Technology (GEM-SET) program has been linking volunteer women mentors in the fields of science, engineering and technology to student members from across the U.S. since 2001. More than 1,300 girls ages 13-18 and 200 mentors in graduate school and beyond have participated via on-line mentoring and face-to-face programming where available. The basic benefits to the student participants are a free subscription to the on-line GEM-SET Digest that provides access to scholarships and internships information, invitation to field trips, career panel discussions, and conferences, direct access to successful mentors in non-traditional careers, and tutoring in select schools. GEM-SET is one branch of pre-college mentoring provided by the Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) program at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC).
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Background

History of Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) Program

The Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) Program at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) is one unit of the Center for Research on Women and Gender, a cross-disciplinary research center established in September 1991 with support from the Illinois Board of Higher Education. UIC faculty researchers and staff advance the center's mission to promote collaborative, multidisciplinary research related to women and gender, with an emphasis on work, health and culture. The center sponsors or co-sponsors research across a range of disciplines, hosts academic conferences on women’s issues, and develops programs for students and faculty focused on women in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).

WISE has a more focused mission than the umbrella research center. Its mission is to increase the number of women students pursuing degrees and graduating in STEM disciplines. It also promotes the recruitment, retention, and advancement of women with academic careers in STEM at UIC and at educational institutions nationwide. The WISE mission mandates that outreach targets the entire student pipeline from k-12 education to post-graduate studies.

WISE research staff monitors enrollment and retention data for undergraduate students in the UIC College of Engineering and several departments in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences including biological sciences, chemistry, earth/environmental sciences, mathematics, computer science, and physics. Tables 1, 2, and 3 below indicate the number and percentage of women in these fields based on data for Fall 2006 provided by the UIC Office of Data Resources and Institutional Analysis.

Table 1.
UIC women undergraduates, College of Engineering, fall 2006
Department# of women enrolled% women enrolled
Bioengineering6838
Chemical Engineering2824
Civil and Materials Engineering3816
Computer Science2212
Electrical and Computer Engineering5111
Mechanical and Industrial Engineering369
All Engineering Departments24315
Table 2.
UIC women undergraduates, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences (LAS) STEM Departments, fall 2006
Department# of women enrolled% women
enrolled
Biological Sciences93260
Chemistry18959
Earth & Environmental Sciences2954
Mathematics9143
Physics1018
All LAS STEM Departments121258
Table 3.
UIC women undergraduates, ALL STEM Departments, fall 2006
ENGINEERING + LAS DEPARTMENT TOTALSn=145540% women

These data show that women are the majority of students in biology, chemistry, earth/environmental science, but continue to be a minority in nontraditional majors for women such as engineering, mathematics, or physics. Approximately 55% of the UIC student body is female, but they comprise only 40% of undergraduate STEM students (DRIA, 2006). At UIC women are 60% of the undergraduate majors in biological sciences and 15% in engineering. These trends are evident at the national level as well as at UIC. Data tabulated by the National Science Foundation for 2006 show that women made up 50.5% of STEM students with the highest concentration in biological sciences (59.8%) and the lowest in engineering (19.5%) (NSF, 2008, Table 1 Women as a percentage of all bachelor’s recipients, by major field group: 1966-2006.). The WISE goal is to continue support programs in order to match or exceed the national norms of 50.5% of UIC women undergraduates selecting STEM majors.

The Girls’ E-Mentoring in Science, Engineering, and Technology (GEM-SET) program is a WISE program designed to increase enrollment rates for women in STEM majors. GEM-SET began in 2001 as part of the U.S. Department of Labor’s (DOL) effort to better prepare the U.S. workforce to fill high skill careers in science, engineering, and technology. With initial funding from the DOL Women’s Bureau, WISE belonged to a team developed by the Region V Women’s Bureau office to launch the pilot program in the Midwest region. After pilot testing in the Midwest region consisting of Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Minnesota, and Wisconsin, the team ramped up the staffing to expand the outreach effort to all 50 states and later to U.S. students living abroad.

Financial constraints and a more focused mission of the WISE management staff have resulted in the GEM-SET program returning to a regional focus for recruitment efforts. After DOL funding ended in 2004, WISE redesigned the GEM-SET outreach efforts to align with the demographics of UIC where approximately 90% of future UIC students reside in Metropolitan Chicago and 71% are based in Cook County (DRIA 2008, New Freshman at UIC Executive Summary, p. i). Although students and mentors from all over the nation are able to continue membership in GEM-SET, since 2004 the vast majority of new GEM-SET members have been from Illinois where UIC marketing efforts are strongest. This regional focus helps GEM-SET thrive with a visible presence in the Chicago Public Schools, the source of approximately 25% of UIC’s first year students (DRIA 2008, Table 10).

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