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Girls WISE Up About Science and Engineering Career Choices

Students Encouraged to Dream Big

Anjali Patel of the Dr. An Wang Middle School in Lowell says she wants to be a pharmacist.

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After a three-year hiatus, UMass Lowell’s award-winning Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) program was back in full force, bringing more than 400 seventh- and eighth-grade girls from 25 area schools to UML North in May for a full day of workshops presented by practicing female scientists and engineers.

“Women continue to be underrepresented in the sciences and engineering fields,” says Prof. Ruth Tanner of the Chemistry Department, who has been directing the program since its inception in 1996. “The mission of the WISE program is to show girls of an early age that such careers can be fun, exciting and rewarding.”

Each participant attended three workshops from a selection of 26. The workshops featured such topics as forensic lab techniques, weather forecasting, veterinary procedures, pharmaceutics, CPR, ceramic conservation, graphic design, and hands-on, interactive activities that related to the daily work of the presenters.

During the workshops, the presenters also served as mentors and role models to the girls, describing the preparation necessary for a prospective career and encouraging them to take more science and math courses in high school. They also described their own career choices, answered questions about their profession and lives and encouraged the girls to correspond with them.

“WISE was a wonderful experience,” says 14-year-old Anjali Patel of the Dr. An Wang Middle School in Lowell. “It taught us a lot, and got the girls involved in various fields. My parents and teachers were very glad that I did this.”

Helen Greiner, co-founder of iRobot Corp. at age 23, was the WISE 2008 keynote speaker. Greiner is a mechanical engineer and computer scientist whose company created My Real Baby (with Hasbro), the Roomba automatic vacuum cleaner and PacBots ߞ; robots used in search and rescue at the World Trade Center and in combat in Afghanistan. Throughout her address, Greiner kept the youngsters engaged, focused and clamoring for more information.

At the end of the program, Tanner presented scholarships from WISE to 17 of the girls for the UMass Lowell summer DesignCamp, which offers week-long workshops in hands-on science and engineering.

Philips Healthcare of Andover was a major sponsor for WISE 2008. Participating students came from Andover, Billerica, Chelmsford, Groton, Lawrence, Lowell, Methuen, North Reading, Pepperell, Reading, Tewksbury, Townsend, Tyngsboro and Westford. For more information, visit

LaShea Fagnant, center, an eighth-grader at Tyngsboro Middle School, participated in this year’s WISE Career Day along with her mother, Ruth Dubey-Leduc, right, support coordinator at the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department, and grandmother, Ruth Dubey, administrative assistant at the Plastics Engineering Department.