Carrie Thomas ~ Catalyst for Engagement

Women in Science and Engineering

Dr. Thomas was a member of the planning committee that developed the Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) program, which is a living and learning community, a type of student housing that has become popular on university campuses over the last decade. WISE consists of several floors in a campus dorm shared by women who are majoring in science, engineering, math and statistics. Most of the participants are either freshmen or sophomores, and each student has an upperclass mentor who helps them acclimate to the university.

WISE students
Diversity is a core element of WISE. "The program as a whole is geared toward women," says Carrie. "Ethnic and racial diversity is also a goal, not just gender diversity." Tutoring for core courses is provided, in classes such as calculus, physics, and chemistry. Also offered are social activities and leadership development programs that take place in the dorm. A speaker series is another highlight. "It's a really great program," says Carrie. "Our assessments show that it makes a difference in their grades and in their success during that first year." The program builds on the freshman year, encouraging participation in internships, co-ops, and research opportunities. Sophomores tend to transition into study abroad or research programs.

"We definitely try to be inclusive. Diversity is at the forefront of everything we do in WISE."
WISE is six years old. It was begun by a few senior faculty members and campus housing representatives, along with Carrie, who became a director during the first year, overseeing the tutoring programs and some of the mentoring. "We started with about 50 girls," says Carrie, "and this year we're at about 260." Now that the program is seeing its third graduating class, real results are measurable, showing impacts on retention and GPA. The program has expanded to include all the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) disciplines on campus, including students from the schools of agriculture, life sciences, textiles and natural resources. Carrie remains involved as a member of the Operational Council (a steering committee).