Every year on February 11, the International Day of Women and Girls in Science shines a light on the life-long contributions of women to the scientific landscape. Despite historical underrepresentation in STEM fields, women are breaking barriers, driven by a passion for discovery and a diverse range of exciting career paths. For the past two decades, Syracuse University Women in Science and Engineering (WiSE) has fueled this enthusiasm by encouraging mentorship, connecting scientists across disciplines, and showcasing the joy of scientific exploration.
Established in 1999, the program supports the recruitment, persistence and advancement of women in STEM on the Syracuse University campus. The group continues to build a pipeline of scientists and engineers through its primary goals of increasing retention and representation, highlighting researchers, and creating an advisory and mentoring network. These initiatives create a platform for students and faculty to exchange ideas and celebrate each other’s achievements.
Sadie Novak, a fifth-year chemistry student, is one of the many WiSE participants pursuing her passion for scientific research. She remembers connecting with organic chemistry as a student and credits an important professor and the lab she worked in as promoting a community of belonging.
“The professor did an amazing job of showing how organic chemistry applies beyond [the field of] chemistry. It made me realize that there are so many possibilities to do with chemistry,” says Novak.
Continuing her work at Syracuse, Novak has found support and community within WiSE’s monthly peer conversation gatherings and events. “It’s definitely opened a lot of doors and created a lot of community for women in STEM here at Syracuse University,” says Novak.
Program co-directors Shobha Bhatia and Kate Lewis say opportunities through mentoring and informal collaboration across science and engineering disciplines are essential in providing support for university women in STEM fields and ensuring they have a common space to build academic relationships.
“Having the opportunity to connect with other women in STEM and receive mentorship, training and coaching specific to being a woman in STEM is really valuable,” says Lewis, professor of biology and the Laura J. and L. Douglas Meredith Professor of Teaching Excellence. in the College of Arts and Sciences. “It enables women to find different strategies to succeed and thrive, and networks also help them build their resilience.”
“WiSE provides a network and collaboration, mentoring and connections for diverse groups,” says Bhatia, professor of civil and environmental engineering and the Laura J. and L. Douglas Meredith Professor of Teaching Excellence in the College of Engineering and Computer Science. “This is unique and if WiSE wasn’t there, it’s not like people wouldn’t do well. But if you talk to any of them individually, they will find that peer support has been incredibly supportive.”
While women hold only about a third of STEM occupations in the US, the landscape is changing. Organizations like WiSE play a crucial role in this change. With a spotlight on women and girls in science in February, Novak says creating spaces where students can see themselves in professors and other STEM academics makes all the difference.
“If you don’t see other people who have done it [like role models] it’s even harder for you to imagine yourself there,” says Novak. “I think that the days like [Feb. 11] where we emphasize the people who are in this field are very important.”
This story was written and produced by Daryl Lovell and Keith Kobland, members of the University’s central media relations team.