UBC program matches students with professional working women
While more than half of the work force in Canada is female, less than a quarter of people working in engineering, mathematics, and science are women.
At UBC’s Okanagan campus, faculty and staff are mindful of that fact.
Two years ago the university introduced the Women in Science and Engineering (WiSE) mentoring program, which teams female students with professional women who are working in the engineering and sciences fields. WiSE began in 2006 as annual workshops for female students in the sciences and engineering programs.
As an undergraduate, Jennifer Forsythe was excited to hear about the workshops and attended. The following year, she became a Work Study student and assisted in the delivery of the workshops. Forsythe, who is now working on her Master of Science degree, says she was lucky to have been informally mentored by UBC Senior Instructor Trudy Kavanagh and Assistant Prof. Miranda Hart, both faculty members with the Irving K. Barber School of Arts and Sciences.
“Both of these mentors were instrumental in my academic and career choices,” says Forsythe. “My mentors not only encouraged me to pursue my goals, but also provided me with invaluable knowledge and wisdom about what I should be looking for in a graduate program, addressed particular challenges that women face in scientific careers, and provided me with advice when I was exploring different avenues before entering graduate school.”
Kavanagh says that while the annual Women in Science workshops were popular, she wanted to offer female students more opportunities to meet women with careers in science and engineering. In December 2010, Kavanagh, Robin Whittall, and Jennifer Forsythe applied for seed funding from the Westcoast Women in Engineering, Science, and Technology (WWEST). The WiSE mentoring program was launched in September 2011.
“We found that after each workshop, the students had the same questions for the workshop panelists,” Kavanagh says. “By introducing mentors to the students, they would always have someone they could approach to get these answers.”
WiSE matches an industry mentor with a junior and senior mentee, with the goal that the senior mentee will also help to mentor the junior. Mentees get assistance with professional skills, job search, résumé creation, and interview skills, as well as important conversations about life-work balance.
The program is now looking for new mentors. Kavanagh says they hope to find professional women who currently work in engineering and science fields who can commit a certain amount of time to spend with female university students.
“Mentors are in short supply right now and are the limiting factor in this program,” Kavanagh says. “We have more students wishing to be in the program than we have mentors to match them with, so some students are being turned away.”
Kavanagh says potential mentors need to be female working professionals in their industry (other than an academic setting), and ideally be in the engineering, lab science, agricultural or wine science, manufacturing, and government research fields. They also need to be accessible, within the Okanagan region, as there are at least three campus events where participation is required. The potential mentor has to be willing to be in contact with the students personally, via email, phone, social media, or Skype.
“There is certainly a time commitment,” says Kavanagh. “Most mentors spend three to five hours per month with their mentees, but the amount of time is something the mentor establishes with the student. We have some amazing mentors who have done wonderful work with their mentees. Right now we are looking for more women who are willing to spent time with our students and encourage them in their academic and future careers.”
Forsythe, who will be a mentor for the 2013-14 academic year, can’t say enough good things about the program. She’s made lasting friendships and received great advice from women who have excelled in their careers.
“The WiSE Program is an excellent avenue for young women to navigate the difficult road of academic study, and finding a job afterwards,” says Forsythe. “Not only do mentors provide invaluable wisdom in regards to career choices, but it is often their own personal experiences and advice that last long after the academic year and mentoring partnership has ended.”
More information about WiSE, and the mentor application form, can be found at: http://wise.ok.ubc.ca/
And for further questions, please contact Robin Whittall, UBC Career Advisor and WiSE mentor liaison, at firstname.lastname@example.org.