Women in Science and Engineering program caps first semester

12/14/2007 8:00:00 AM

Maybe it was the weekend retreat to Lake Tahoe as the semester began.

Or perhaps it was the visit to the cadaver laboratory in the University of Nevada School Medicine.

That was a field trip members of the Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) program seemed to really enjoy.

"Oh my goodness ... they went into the lab, donned gloves and really got into it," said program director Dr. Katherine McCall with a chuckle. "I mean, they were really ... in there."

Or, maybe the greatest highlight of WISE's just-completed first semester wasn't one particular moment. Maybe it was a series of moments, ones where the members of the all-female, living learning University program were simply enjoying what the program had set out to do in the first place.

"We all came to WISE already knowing what we want to do with our lives," said Jonevieve Wilkerson, an 18-year-old freshman from Las Vegas majoring in biology, and one of 36 program participants who have lived together on the first floor of Argenta Hall this semester. Together, the group has studied and gone to classes together. They've also become friends and confidantes. "The fact that we've had this program, and we could all stick together and encourage each other, we all know now that there are other women in the same boat. I know I've made some good friends. I know that we can get through this together."

WISE has been a cooperative effort almost from the beginning, when administrators and advisers in the College of Science developed the blueprint for the plan last year. The idea was to recruit incoming freshmen female students to a program that would help nurture their interest in math, science and engineering.

"I really, really like it," said Mandy Albert, 18, a freshman majoring in chemistry from Reno's Galena High School. "The cohesiveness has been great. We all study together. And we have a lot of fun things that just sort of happen. We just sort of end up in hall parties sometimes. People walk down the halls and go, 'That's weird ... what are those girls doing?'

"But if you're not in WISE, you don't understand how everyone works together."

Added Beth Cohen, 18, a freshman from Las Vegas who is majoring in mathematics: "I just love all the girls in the program. No matter what time of the day or night, I can go to any of their rooms and ask for their help if I feel I need it. They're really helpful with stuff like that."

Albert, who hopes to either teach high school chemistry or do pharmaceutical research, said she was a little "freaked out" at first. Yet, after the retreat, and getting to know the program participants better, she now feels the program has helped her have a productive first semester of college.

"One of the real highlights has been that we have very similar classes," she said. "We can go, Oh my gosh, we have a test tomorrow. What are we going to do?' And then we can all work together and study late at night and not have to go very far from our rooms, because everybody in the program is right there."

McCall, a longtime University physics professor, said the relationships that WISE members form now could last well beyond their one-year involvement with the program.

"Even if they're not in your specific field, it's the idea that these are people you can talk to if there is ever a bump in the road," she said, noting that as a one-year program, the great growth and friendships established during the fall semester will continue when classes resume in January for the spring semester. "It's another person who has been in a similar situation."

Alura Vincent, 18, a biology major from Las Vegas, said the program has given her exposure to strong, professionally established female role models.

"At orientation, Dr. McCall was up there talking about the program, along with my (Department of Biology) adviser, Dr. (Carol) Ort, and I thought, 'Wow, that program sounds really cool,' said Vincent, who hopes to attend medical school and become a pediatrician. "I thought the program would help give me a step up on everybody else.

"Dr. Ort has been amazing. I'm always wanting to change my schedule around, I'm always going crazy about things like that, and Dr. Ort has done an amazing job of helping me get exactly what I want out of my experience here so far."

Meeting young women who are passionate about the so-called "hard" sciences has also been a benefit, said Rozi Fowler, a 19-year-old freshman from Minden who is majoring in mining engineering.

"I'm actually in a male-dominated major, so it's nice to have some other girls who are interested in the same things I am," she said.

"It's been great," added Jessica Jones, 18, a freshman nursing major from Reno. "I thought it would be a great way to meet people and to live on campus. We study together, we take classes together. If you ever need any help, all you have to do is go down the hall."

Then Jones smiled.

"We've gotten so close," she said, noting the ultimate litmus test of any friendship, "we've even had a couple of fights already."

Brittney Spurling, 19, a freshman from Las Vegas majoring in veterinary science, said she was probably the last person to join the program.

"I actually wasn't supposed to be in it," she said. "I was going to be in another learning living community on campus. But a girl dropped out, and I got her place. I was probably the last girl to get into WISE. But I'm glad I did."

Why?

"My major is a really hard major," she said. "There is a lot of pressure, it's hard to get into vet school. Sometimes you need to be encouraged, and pushed. That's something the girls in the program really do well. We all encourage each other. There is a lot of, "You can do this. You've got to keep going. You've got to keep pushing."


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