Dartmouth Engineer - The Magazine of Thayer School of EngineeringDartmouth Engineer - The Magazine of Thayer School of Engineering

WISP Leading Women Into Engineering

By Anna Fiorentino
October 2013 • CoolStuff

As an engineering student and co-coordinator of the Peer Mentor Program within Dartmouth’s Women in Science Project (WISP), Julie Ann Haldeman ’14 was excited to help WISP pair first-year female students with upper-class female mentors of similar academic interests. After all, she had the same done for her three years ago. “Serving as a peer mentor is one small way of paying it forward to future classes of female engineers,” says Haldeman, who shares her duties with Lauren Salgueiro ’15. “I stay involved in WISP since I feel it’s important to help build a strong community of women in the sciences.”

Julie Ann Haldeman
Julie Ann Haldeman '14 presenting her WISP research project at the Karen E. Wetterhahn Science Symposium

WISP has deep roots at Thayer School and works to increase the number of female students pursuing majors and careers in science, technology, mathematics, and of course, engineering. Another way they do this is to match up first-year undergraduate women with a two-term, part-time paid internship with faculty mentors, advisors, and specialized events to help them develop professional skills and reflect upon their experience.

Dartmouth Biomedical Engineering Center
WISP intern Anna Miller '16 examines one of over 9000 retrieved orthopedic implants in the Dartmouth Biomedical Engineering Center (DBEC) for Orthopedics—the largest collection of its kind in the world.

“Being a WISP intern with Professor John Collier affirmed my interest in the sciences, my dream to become a physician, and my commitment to the community of women on this campus,” says Valerie Zhao ’15. “It made me more confident about pursuing an engineering major, even though I did not have much previous experience.” Two years after interning with WISP, Zhao is not only still doing research in Collier's lab, but also has him as her academic advisor.

“Thayer School has been a very important partner for WISP since its earliest days, and Dean Joseph Helble continues to be very supportive,” says Kathy Scott Weaver, Assistant Director of the Office of Undergraduate Advising & Research (UGAR), which runs WISP.

WISP progress report
WISP interns deliver progress reports on their work in the DBEC.

“Many Thayer School faculty continue to be actively involved as WISP mentors,” says Weaver. Since the beginning, 15 percent (247 of 1,634) of WISP research internships have been in engineering, and 15 percent (57 of 385) of WISP internship sponsors have been Thayer School faculty.

This year Collier is again offering an internship in joint prosthesis research, while Professor Ian Baker is having an intern look at the effects of impurities on grain growth in ice. Also among the ten recently assigned first-year WISP research internships is Professor Ulrike Wegst’s multisensory exploration of materials science. The intern will help examine how the structure-property-processing of foods like chocolate and ice cream can lead to innovations like directionally frozen biomaterials for spinal cord repair.

It was at this time three years ago that Haldeman found out her WISP internship would be in Thayer's Ice Research Lab with Professor Mary Albert and PhD student Kaitlin Keegan. She designed and conducted an experiment to determine the most effective 3D imaging techniques for ice cores and from there, landed at Thayer School.

“I was mostly taking prerequisite courses at the time, so this exposure to Thayer faculty, students, and facilities motivated me to take future engineering classes,” says Haldeman, adding that it was WISP that attracted her to Dartmouth in the first place. “I was excited by the chance to participate in research my freshman year, an opportunity that doesn't exist at many other schools. Even now, WISP events remind me of the strong community of women in science and engineering we have here at Thayer.”

History of WISP

WISP was cofounded in 1990 by former Thayer School Associate Dean Carol Muller ’77 and the late Karen Wetterhahn, Professor of Chemistry and Associate Dean of Faculty for the Sciences. Their mission was to address the dwindling number of women participating in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

When Muller left in 1996, WISP began reporting to the Provost Office, but was still housed at Thayer School until 2003. Meanwhile, students continued to run the Peer Mentor Program since its establishment in 1992, helping first-year students with courses and schoolwork and hosting events throughout the year to build a strong network of women within the Program.

In 2009, UGAR began overseeing WISP and in 2010 they celebrated their 20th anniversary and received a generous grant from the Hellman Family Foundation to support research internships for women in chemistry, engineering, math, physics and astronomy. Today, WISP continues to collaborate with the Dartmouth chapter of the Society of Women Engineers and with Thayer as a whole.

Tags: faculty, research, students

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