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The Dartmouth
March 2, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

WitsON program offers mentorship to women

Dartmouth is one of 72 undergraduate institutions with students currently participating in Women in Technology Sharing Online, a web-based forum where students can interact with other students and female mentors in science, engineering, math and technology, according to Piazza Vice President of Operations Phil Soffer. WitsON is a six-week pilot program sponsored by Harvey Mudd College and Piazza, a social learning platform, that aims to provide students with opportunities to discuss post-graduate career options in scientific and technological fields.

WitsON supports Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's Equal Futures Partnership, encouraging countries to identify and address internal barriers to equal social and economic participation by women, Soffer said. In the context of the United States, WitsON focuses on addressing women's relative lack of participation in the sciences, according to Soffer.

"The goal of WitsON is to give undergraduates, especially women, in the sciences a sense of the variety of career and life opportunities by connecting them with women who are in different stages of their careers," Soffer said. "We hope that more students will be able to envision themselves in careers in science and technology."

Undergraduates at participating institutions can register for WitsON online, Soffer said. Although the program is geared toward women, men are also able to ask questions, he said.

Nearly 300 mentors including first-year graduate students, astronauts, university presidents and CEOs of major corporations have agreed to answer questions posed by registered students in the online forum, according to Soffer.

"There's a lot of interaction between mentors and students on the online forum," Assistant Director of Undergraduate Advising and Research Kathy Weaver said. "It's a conversation a candid, two-way dialogue."

On the online forum, students have the opportunity to ask questions in an environment that is not overly personal, according to Weaver. The anonymity allows students to feel comfortable asking a variety of questions, ranging from career objectives to balancing work and family.

Weaver, who directs the Women in Science Program, said mentoring is an asset to pursuing a career in any field, yet many students view finding a mentor as daunting. WitsON may provide students with an opportunity to see the benefits of interacting with experienced mentors, according to Weaver.

"The challenge is always for students to take initiative and try it," Weaver said. "The short term nature of WitsON puts less pressure on students and allows them to participate as much or as little as they want."

Dartmouth faculty and students echoed the importance of mentorship to success in science, technology, engineering and mathematics careers.

Thayer School of Engineering professor Elsa Garmire, who serves as a WitsON mentor, said that her involvement was motivated by the relatively small number of women succeeding in science and engineering. Many women start in the field but later drop out due to a lack of guidance, she said.

"Women tend to be hard on themselves when things get rough," Garmire said. "By being a mentor, I may be able to help some students hang in there."

Women and Science Project Peer Mentor Coordinators Julie Ann Haldeman '14 and Sarah Hammer '15 said that connecting women interested in science builds a support network and provides a forum for discussing how to approach an education and future career in science.

"Given the success of the [WISP Peer Mentor Program] on campus, I can only imagine how helpful it might be for female undergraduates to connect with professional scientists and engineers," Haldeman said.

Hammer, who registered with WitsON, said that she initially registered with the hope of finding mentors with similar interests in engineering and is satisfied with her experience so far.

"It's interesting to see questions that other students ask about engineering as well as posts by the mentors," Hammer said. "The mentors are very responsive and helpful. Perhaps Dartmouth could offer a women in science gathering with professors and students, so that students could ask questions of women from multiple fields of science and engineering."

WISP was founded in 1990 to support women interested in careers in the sciences by providing undergraduate research opportunities as well as mentorship. WISP matches underclassmen with peers who have experience in science curricula and research. MentorNet is also available to students interested in a one-on-one online mentoring relationship.