The Voice: Spring 2001

The Voice

Women in sciences get support

The new Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) club had its first official meeting in Nicole Vos and Darcy Beltman were encouraged by responses to the first meeting of WISE.February, hosting a panel discussion that included Dr. Mary Tanyel, a medical doctor in Sioux Center; Dr. Sherri Lantinga, a Dordt professor of psychology; and Rachel Marienau, an engineer at Pella Corporation.

The goal of the meeting was to help women students think through issues related to balancing a professional career and family responsibilities, says Nicole Vos, a sophomore engineering major who along with computer science major Darcy Beltman is heading the group. The topic for the panel was settled upon after asking the nearly thirty women students who expressed interest in the club what they wished to discuss.

The thirty women are majoring in a variety of fields in the sciences. Vos says that one of the group's goals is to provide support for women in majors that have particularly low enrollments of women. Until this year, Vos was the only woman engineering major. Women in computer science and physics are also few.

“I've gotten used to being in classes with all guys,” says Vos. “I just don't think about it a lot. That's just the way it is.” But she admits that she notices it more this year as the percentage of engineering courses she takes increases.

Vos says she was excited this fall when another woman transferred into the program-even though she is taking a class in which Vos is a teaching assistant, not a student.

Although Vos is unsure of her specific career goals at this point, she wants to help WISE become a part of campus life, a place where women who find themselves surrounded primarily by male students can come for support from other women.

She credits club sponsor Jo Faber with being the instigator for the group. Following a conference on women in science a couple of years ago, Faber and education professor Barb Hoekstra tried to think of ways to encourage and support women in the sciences. They talked to Vos and Beltman, who were interested in helping form a club.

“Women students often take their studies so seriously that if they don't absolutely excel they think they might not make it in the profession,” says Faber. She says there's often a different dynamic at work: “A woman can get a 92 and think she's in trouble, a man can get an 80 and think he's doing fine.” Faber hopes that WISE will help women encourage each other.

The women in WISE also received a grant from the Association of Mechanical Engineers this year to begin a mentoring program in local high schools. The Dordt women hope to talk with high school students in these schools to encourage them to follow their interest in the sciences.

“We're just getting started, but it's very exciting,” says Vos. She and others appreciate the support they're getting from faculty in the natural science division. The natural science dean offered to pay for club refreshments, and engineering professors not only have been strong supporters, but helped the club apply for the grant. Other faculty in the science building send notices of possible speakers for the club's meetings.

“They are behind us all the way,” says Faber.

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