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Release: June 27, 2000

UI WISE program reports high retention rate for Class of 2000 women

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- The University of Iowa Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) program recently announced that of the 62 first-year students in its 1996 inaugural mentoring class, 81 percent completed their May 2000 degrees with science or engineering majors.

Betsy Riesz, coordinator of the WISE Student to Student Support in Science (SSSS) mentoring program, said that the results exceed national trends, in which the retention of women undergraduates in science and engineering varies from 30-46 percent, depending on size and whether the institution is public or private. She added that for men, the retention rates within science and engineering range from 39 to 61 percent.

Among students who began their UI academic careers by majoring in science, 76 percent remained in science. In the case of engineering students, 76 percent remained in engineering, and 14 percent selected a science major. Additionally, of the 62 freshmen, 13 later served the SSSS program for two years as mentors. Riesz noted that the final evaluation forms completed by students often reflect the feelings expressed by one mentor: "The best thing about SSSS was getting a chance to interact with other enthusiastic girls I wouldn't have otherwise met." During the 1999-2000 academic year, 76 students and 76 mentors participated.

Riesz said that the WISE Program cannot take full credit for the high retention rate, since the fact that the students applied to be part of the mentoring program indicated that in 1996 they were already motivated to maximize their opportunities at the university. However, she added that even talented and motivated students can become discouraged by the challenges they face in a large university and in rigorous science and engineering majors.

The SSSS program assists first-year students in accessing information about classes, study strategies, campus support services, organizations and events and provides informal networking. Currently the program is funded by Alcoa Inc., Andersen Consulting, The Caterpillar Foundation, The John Deere Foundation, Fisher Controls International, Inc., 3M, The Maytag Corporation, Pioneer Hi-Bred International, and Rockwell.

WISE provides additional opportunities to assist undergraduates, including a WISE learning community, an entire floor of Daum Residence Hall open to first-year women with science and engineering majors. Other opportunities include a spring student leadership conference and the WISE Ambassadors, a recognized student organization offering a variety of leadership activities, including planning a Girl Scout Engineering Badge Day for about 150 scouts.

Chris Brus, director of WISE, said, "It is well documented that one of the most important supports for young women entering fields of study where women have been traditionally under-represented, is community. Women place a high value on being connected to others and much of what WISE does, both in academic and social programming, is provide a framework where young women can find each other. It is also documented that young women who remain isolated often feel they have no voice in an institutional setting. This perception may cause otherwise competent and capable young women to be much less assertive than their male counterparts in seeking and establishing healthy professional networks. Programs like WISE provide the small nudge of opportunity that helps young women become active, equal participants in the greater university community."

The WISE program exists to enhance opportunities for women students, staff and faculty to advance in their science, math, engineering, and technical fields. For further information, contact Chris Brus, director, at or 319-353-2290.