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University of Iowa News Release

July 14, 2003

WISE Reports High Retention Rate For Class Of 2003 Women

The University of Iowa Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) Program recently announced that 71 percent of first-year women who entered the undergraduate peer-mentoring program in the fall of 1999 completed science or engineering degrees in May 2003.

Betsy Riesz, coordinator of the WISE Student to Student Support in Science (SSSS) mentoring program, said that these results exceed national trends, in which the persistence of women undergraduates in science and engineering varies from 30 to 46 percent. The persistence rate for men in these fields ranges from 39 to 61 percent.

Among students who began their careers at the University of Iowa intending to major in science, 67 percent remained in science. Among engineering students, 72 percent graduated in engineering and an additional 10 percent graduated with a science major.

These results of the entering class of 1999 are similar to two previous groups of women who entered the WISE undergraduate mentoring program in 1996 and 1997, graduating in 2000 and 2001, respectively. The overall persistence rates were 81 percent for the 2000 graduates and 72 percent for the 2001 graduates.

Riesz noted that although retention rates may be higher than would be expected due to student self-selection 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.

For decades, The Higher Education Research Institute at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) has examined trends in first-year college students' experiences. A recent UCLA survey reported "record numbers of college students feeling 'overwhelmed by all I have to do' (30.2 percent in 1999 compared with 16 percent when the question was first asked in 1985)." Nearly twice as many women (38.8 percent) reported feeling overwhelmed as did men (20.0 percent). Through the UI WISE Program, mentors assist first-year students to cope with stress by setting priorities and developing task management strategies. Most importantly, the mentors share their understanding of and experience in adjusting to and being part of a large university, as well as beginning a challenging major. The most frequently heard comment from first-year students, when asked what they liked best about the program, is: "Having an older student who has gone through the same experiences and giving advice on everything."

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 based on academic and social interests, and are exposed to students from across the spectrum of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) disciplines. In 2002-2003, 120 mentors served 120 mentees.

Students in the program have the opportunity to see the application of their coursework to future careers through contact with professional women in sponsoring corporations. Sponsors for 2002-2003 include Accenture; Alcoa Inc.; Caterpillar Foundation; John Deere Foundation; Fisher Controls International, Inc.; Maytag Corporation Foundation; Microsoft; Pioneer Hi-Bred International; and Rockwell Collins.

The WISE program exists to enhance opportunities for women students, staff and faculty to advance in STEM majors and careers. For further information, contact Chris Brus, director at 319-335-3530 or

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Services, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 301, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500.

MEDIA CONTACT: Gary Galluzzo, Writer, 319-384-0009,