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Release: June 19, 2001

WISE: Many women in science, engineering graduated in four years

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- The University of Iowa Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) program recently announced that 72 percent of first-year women who entered the undergraduate program in the fall of 1997 completed science or engineering degrees in May of 2001.

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 four-year persistence rate 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 the rate for men ranges from 39-61 percent.

Among students who began their UI academic careers intending to major in science, 64 percent remained in science. Among engineering students, 81 percent graduated in engineering and an additional10 percent graduated with a science major. She said that the results are similar to the inaugural group of women who participated in the WISE undergraduate mentoring program in 1996 and graduated in the spring of 2000. In that group, 76 percent of the science majors completed their degrees in science and 76 percent of the engineering majors remained in engineering, with another 14 percent graduating with science degrees.

Riesz noted that although retention rates may be higher than would be expected because students self-select for the mentoring program, it is also important to note that participation is open to any interested incoming first-year woman regardless of grade point average or standardized test scores. She points out that it has been well-documented that talented, motivated students coming into a large institution often struggle with isolation as well as with the demands of a rigorous academic work load and may find great benefit in forming a community of like-minded students.

The SSSS program combines workshops and small group meetings to assist first-year students in accessing information and familiarizing them with campus support services. Under the guidance of their mentors, usually juniors or seniors in the same majors, first-year students also learn about campus and community organizations, develop useful networks around academic and social interests, and are exposed to students from the disciplines of science, math, engineering and technology. According to Riesz, comments on program evaluation forms often express the value of feeling connected, as represented by a student who wrote: "My mentor is really cool. She knows a lot about this campus. I feel like I could ask her anything and she would gladly help me."

The mentoring program is totally funded by corporate sponsors, which this year include Alcoa Inc.; Accenture; The Caterpillar Foundation; The John Deere Foundation; Fisher Controls International, Inc.; 3M; The Maytag Corporation; Microsoft; Monsanto; Pioneer Hi-Bred International; and Rockwell.

WISE provides additional services to assist undergraduates. A WISE learning community, a floor in Daum Hall, creates a setting for collaborative study and the sharing of information gleaned from mentors or campus activities. The WISE Ambassadors, a campus organization, engages students in a variety of leadership activities, including planning a Girl Scout Engineering Badge Day.

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