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After a three-year hiatus, UMass Lowell’s Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) program will resume on Friday, May 23. The daylong event, held at various locations in UML North, will introduce middle school girls to careers in science and engineering and help them understand the value of taking math and science courses in high school to prepare them for a broad range of professions that require strong, solid backgrounds in these subjects.
According to a recent report, there is a pressing national need to encourage young people, particularly girls, to study science, engineering, math and technology and to enter careers in these fields. “While women now comprise more than half of all college students, they receive less than 20 percent of all degrees awarded in the target majors,” says Prof. Ruth Tanner of the Chemistry Department, who has been directing the program since its inception in 1996. “Urgent and sustained attention is required to develop awareness and interest in these majors and careers, especially among girls.”
According to Tanner, young girls often reject science and math due to lack of career awareness in schools and the prevailing stereotypical perception that women engaged in these areas of study are not physically attractive. “We know that efforts to spark interest, increase knowledge and confidence, and alter unflattering stereotypes of these career choices for girls have to begin in middle school. The WISE program achieves all these goals,” she says.
WISE will offer 26 hands-on workshops this year. These workshops will be conducted by female professionals with successful and rewarding careers in science and engineering who can serve as role models. They include software engineers and a medical doctor, pharmacist, architect, science writer, meteorologist, environmental scientist, veterinarian, cosmetic chemist, forensic scientist and wildlife biologist.
About 425 students from Andover, Billerica, Chelmsford, Groton-Dunstable, Lowell, Lawrence, Methuen, North Middlesex, Reading, Tewksbury, Tyngsboro and Westford are expected to participate.
The girls will also hear a keynote speaker tell her story and offer words of encouragement and inspiration. This year’s speaker will be Helen Greiner, a mechanical engineer and computer scientist who is cofounder and board chairman of iRobot Corp., which makes robots for the consumer market and the military. In addition, WISE will provide summer scholarships to further encourage the students’ interests in a science area of their choice.
“WISE is entirely funded through generous donations from private individuals and corporate sponsors in the Merrimack Valley and southern New Hampshire,” says Tanner. “It’s because of the workshop presenters’ generous gift of time and energy that we’re able to provide this program at no cost to schools.”
For more information about WISE, contact Tanner at (978) 934-3662; Ruth_Tanner@uml.edu.