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Campus Gets WISE to a Future in Science

 

by Barry Shifrin

Issue date: 9/20/10 Section: News
FACING FORWARD: The inaugural members of Women in Science and Engineering (Media Credit: Barry Shifrin).
FACING FORWARD: The inaugural members of Women in Science and Engineering (Media Credit: Barry Shifrin).

The Brooklyn College science community has been given a new, invaluable resource with the inception of Women in Science and Engineering.

Holding their inaugural meeting in the Student Center's Maroney-Leddy room this past Thursday, WISE, as they are known, has a simple mission-to educate students about the multitude of career pathways possible with a degree in science.

"I don't know that there's another group like this on campus," said sophomore mathematics major and pre-engineering student Ashley Washington, the group's newly elected president. "We want to help guide students towards working in this incredibly vast profession."

Through the hosting of guest speakers panel discussions, the group hopes to help members develop connections to professional women in science throughout the New York City area. WISE will invite former female CUNY graduate students as well as those from other New York schools to share their post-collegiate successes and failures.

"One of the reasons I wanted to start this club," said faculty advisor Stacey Brenner, "is because there are women interested in science with the ability to excel in the field, but not a lot of information about career paths they can pursue."

Brenner, an assistant chemistry professor at BC who conducts research on environmentally-friendly catalysts, said that a major obstacle to many women pursuing careers in science is the perceived cost of an advanced degree.

"I asked these women [at the meeting today] what they thought the average tuition for a graduate degree in science at a private university was," said Brenner, "and they guessed $100,000.

"For a PhD in chemistry, biology, biochemistry, or even physics, your tuition is free."

Nearly all graduate programs offer attractive reimbursement packages for students majoring in the physical sciences. Scholars generally receive a full tuition waiver, in addition to a $25,000-30,000 yearly stipend, subsidized housing, and free health care. The full cost of graduate education is paid for by the university, the individual department, and grant money from the student's research mentor.

"It doesn't matter if it's a public university like CUNY or a private university like Harvard," Brenner said. "It's free, and you're paid to go there...[that's] something people from all backgrounds can take advantage of."
Many students who major in science as an undergraduate are initially drawn by the allure of one day becoming a doctor. By choosing to pursue a free doctorate degree as opposed to shouldering the hefty financial burden of medical school, however, students can still have an impact in the field of human health.

"When you come out with a PhD, you're going to get a great starting salary," said Brenner, "and unlike with med school, you've got no debt since your tuition was paid for. Plus, you can still make a contribution to medicine and human health if that's what you're interested in." 

One area where science graduates have a major impact is in drug discovery. Chemists and biologists are hired by pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies to synthesize compounds that are made into medicines and to run the clinical trials needed to test them out.

WISE's new members are excited to hit the ground running and provide support to the BC science community.

"We want to demystify the process of becoming a professional woman in science," said Terri Lee Hakala, a pre-med junior biology major who will serve as the group's new treasurer.

"I'm going to actively recruit new members in classrooms and help them feel more included in the campus experience," said Hakala, who is a new transfer herself from UMass Boston.

"I think once the club is fully developed," said co-vice president and junior environmental science major Taneshia Brewster-Joseph, "it will generate a ton of enthusiasm for women's science again." 

Brewster-Joseph, who earned her associate's degree in women's studies from Kingsborough Community College, is interested in facilitating the progress of her new department, as well.

"The environmental science major is in its very early stages now and people don't know what career opportunities they have, as opposed to more traditional science majors like bio and chem," she said. "I'd like to see more job and internship opportunities for our department."

Women in Science and Engineering will be filling the gap left on campus by the now-inactive Association for Women in Science. Brenner, who belonged to a similar organization during her time in graduate school, said that she was grateful for the type of opportunities membership afforded her.

"A student had approached me and said that there was no program here like this," she said. "She wanted to form one, and ended up creating JAWS, the Jewish Alliance for Women in Science."

As a group, WISE feels it is important to collaborate with other science organizations at BC.

"All professional chemists are members of the American Chemical Society, and they receive the group's journal about every two weeks," said Brenner. "In the back, they always have advertisements for faculty positions...and at the end of the ad it always says, 'Women and minority candidates are especially encouraged to apply.'

"As women in science," said Brenner, "we're all minorities." 
Source: http://media.www.brooklynexcelsior.com/media/storage/paper901/news/2010/09/20/News/Campus.Gets.Wise.To.A.Future.In.Science-3935468.shtml