ISU programs encourage young women to pursue career in STEM fields

ISU’s Women in Science and Engineering program, commonly referred to as WiSE, aims to equal the gender playing field in science, technology, engineering and math fields.

WiSE has been encouraging female primary school students to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Various activities and outreach programs have been designed to increase interest and awareness for young women. 

“We reach about 8 to 9 thousand K-12 students every year in the state of Iowa through the Student Role Model program,” said Lora-Leigh Chrystal, director of WiSE. 

WiSE allows middle and high school students to visit campus for the Taking the Road Less Traveled Career Conference. The program gives students the opportunity to interact with professionals who are involved in STEM careers.

Though the number of members in WiSE have increased, Alexandra Rowe, undergraduate programs coordinator, said the enrollment still isn’t as high as the group would like it to be. That’s where the outreach programs step in.

Data from the Office of Admissions shows that a high yield of the middle and high school students who come to Taking the Road Less Traveled Career Conferences end up at Iowa State in STEM programs and also participate in WiSE.

“It does make a huge difference for students to make the connection to a particular major and to ISU campus very earlier on,” Rowe said.

The Student Role Model Program is where the the undergraduate students that are in STEM programs go out in the community and serve as a role model by going to classrooms and other community organizations. They lead students in programs and help in STEM-related activities.

WiSE also provides prospective students who are at community colleges opportunities to pursue degrees in the STEM-type programs at Iowa State.

Taking the Road Less Traveled Career Conferences, Student Role Model Program and Girl Scouts are some of the more popular WiSE initiatives. The programs give young women opportunities to perform practice activities and learn in workshops.

Curtis Struck, professor in physics and astronomy, said there are some surprising factors influencing students to pursue STEM careers.

“Science fiction has always played a role in attracting both genders to science and engineering,” Struck said. 

Struck cited the recent movie “Gravity” as an example of the positive impact media can have on both genders while pursuing STEM careers. 

The Taking the Road Less Traveled Career Conference is scheduled for 9 a.m. on Thursday, Oct. 16, at the Memorial Union. The conference will last until 2:30 p.m. Various sessions will occur in multiple rooms throughout the union. About 400 high school students will be attending.

WiSE holds the event six times each year. The next events will be on Oct. 23 and 30.