The various existing STEM fields have historically been a place where women are undervalued or completely excluded. However, the women of Hope College have created a space there for themselves and made their presence known.
Women in Science and Engineering, also known as WiSE, is a group for female students majoring in any subject that falls under the STEM umbrella.
“Our goal is to bring together the diverse women within the STEM fields at Hope and just kind of build a community and make it so they feel supported,” says senior Carolyn Cooper, the current director of WiSE, “because the various STEM fields are a place where women have traditionally been excluded or they’ve been in the minority and they continue to face discrimination out in the job world.”
WiSE strives to create this community through multiple different avenues. According to Cooper, they put together mentoring groups every semester for their active members who wish to participate. These groups are made up of three to four students of similar interests from different classes. This connects younger students with upperclassmen to get advice from, and allows all involved students to get to know others that they might not otherwise interact with.
Additionally, WiSE puts on various events throughout the semester for the whole group to bond as well as to learn from women who are actively working in these fields. For example, in the past they have had panels both with Hope’s female faculty members and other women working in STEM fields for them to share their experiences in the professional world.
Cooper says that even beyond WiSE she has found the STEM community at Hope to be a positive environment for female students.
“I guess I’ve felt almost especially valued by the community at Hope. From professors, I have never felt anything but completely included and supported in STEM,” Cooper says.
Junior Josephine Surel, the Outreach Coordinator for WiSE, echoes that sentiment. She says that she has even had unique opportunities because of her gender. Specifically, she received a research grant that was for women in engineering and physics as a part of the recent push to get more women and girls interested in STEM.
Cooper attributes this positive environment in part to the hard work and success of the women who started WiSE.
“That founding e-board of WiSE, they were powerhouse ladies. They had a mission and they knew exactly what they wanted to do and they were great at forming those connections.”
Even with a very supportive faculty, the female STEM majors of Hope are not completely free from the challenges that come with being a woman in STEM. Both Surel and Cooper say that any disrespectful behaviors that they have been met with while here at Hope have mainly come from their male peers.
“I haven’t encountered anything super outright or directly discriminatory, but what I have noticed is that me and some of my female peers tend to get talked over a little more,” Surel says. “There just not being as many of us makes it so that our voices are not always as highlighted or important it feels like.”
Surel says that she has noticed this tendency particularly in group project settings, and Cooper has had similar experiences.
“The other thing is, whenever we do have events focused on inequality or education about women in different fields like that, it’s almost always entirely women who are there. So, our male counterparts are not always involved or engaged with the issues that we wish they were,” Surel says.
While only female students can be official members of WiSE and attend their biweekly meetings, there are still plenty of opportunities for male students to get involved with the group. WiSE typically puts on multiple larger events throughout the semester that are open to the entire campus community, including the men. These events are things such as screenings of movies that highlight the experience of women in STEM careers.
Men, and especially men in STEM majors, are encouraged to show up to these events to continue learning about and supporting their female peers. Surel also urges her male peers to take the time to step back and listen to their female classmates, because even if the discrimination isn’t obvious, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.