South Dakota Tech News
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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
July 26, 2004
Contact: Steve Buchholz, Public Information Manager, 394-6082
Grant Creates Women’s Mentoring Program At Tech
Three South Dakota Tech faculty members have received $200,000 from the National Science Foundation to establish a women’s mentoring program at Tech to increase retention of women students in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields.
“First and foremost, we hope to increase the retention of women engineering and science students on campus,�� Dr. Kerri Vierling said. “Additionally, we hope to create an environment where women realize that there are multiple career paths in engineering and science fields, and that their contributions to engineering and science are necessary and valuable in developing a successful, productive and creative workforce.”
Vierling, an associate professor in the Chemistry and Chemical Engineering Department, is collaborating on the project with Dr. Andrea Surovek, an assistant professor in the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department, and Dr. Jennifer Karlin, an assistant professor in the Industrial Engineering program. Karlin and Surovek have been actively involved in developing programming aimed at improving recruitment and retention of women students since joining the Tech faculty in 2003. Other faculty members and university administrators also will be involved.
The funding was possible because it is tied to a $500,000 CAREER research grant Vierling received. The CAREER program offers the National Science Foundation's most prestigious awards for new faculty members. It recognizes and supports the early career-development activities of those teacher-scholars who are most likely to become the academic leaders of the 21st century.
The issue of women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields is critical. Women are traditionally underrepresented, and their loss can negatively affect the quality of our nation’s science, technology, engineering and mathematics workforce, Vierling said. Nationwide, women earn nearly half of all bachelor’s degrees in science and engineering, but in 2003, women comprised 15 percent of the South Dakota Tech graduating class. Overall, women comprise about 30 percent of Tech’s student body. Because low retention of women students is one cause of the relatively low number of graduates, the focus of this project is to address retention through a proven mentoring program first developed by the Women in Engineering Program at Purdue University.
The grant funding lasts two years. During that time, the professors plan to implement the mentoring program and hire a Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) program director. While this grant will provide the initial seed money for the director position, the university will actively seek ways to fund the position after the granting period is over. Tech will collaborate on the program with experts on mentoring and assessment from Purdue University and the University of Michigan.
“Because women often change majors out of these fields due to feelings of low self-confidence in their abilities, a major goal of this program is to create a mentoring program that increases student self-confidence and provides a forum where women students can discuss issues, strategies and evaluate plans for success in these fields,” Surovek said.
Vierling and her collaborators believe the program will:
Raise the self-confidence of participants.
Increase the retention rate of participants.
Provide relevant information about career opportunities in science and engineering fields.
“Developing a reputation as a science and engineering educational institution friendly to all demographics will help increase Tech’s national prominence and attract and retain top students,” Karlin said. “Increasing our diversity will also encourage companies looking to recruit from a diverse applicant pool to look to South Dakota Tech. Also, the need to increase diversity in the engineering and science workforces is a national priority.”
South Dakota Tech uses other programs to promote science and engineering to women. During Engineers Week 2003, Tech offered a pilot program called E-Week GIRLS (Girls Into Real Learning Succeed) for more than 125 middle- and high-school students. During the daylong event, students participated in hands-on activities that demonstrated how engineering and science apply to real life, and speaking with professional engineers, scientists, professors, and other successful women. Tech will offer the program again during the 2004 Engineers Week in February. Information about E-Week GIRLS is available at www.hpcnet.org/SDTechEWeekGirls.
“This issue is a priority for this university,” Tech President Dr. Charles Ruch said. “A successful university or business needs the contributions of our entire population, and we will do what we can to make sure that happens.”
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Devereaux Library. South Dakota School of Mines and Technology.