Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

College Links Women in Science A Program at Dartmouth Aims to Keep Undergraduate Women Interested in the Sciences through Mentoring and Internships

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

College Links Women in Science A Program at Dartmouth Aims to Keep Undergraduate Women Interested in the Sciences through Mentoring and Internships

Article excerpt

A FEW years ago, some members of the faculty and administration at Dartmouth College noticed that while 45 percent of incoming freshmen women indicated an interest in the sciences, only 15 percent ended up as science majors. This was typical of most institutions of higher education, says Carol Muller, an administrator with the school of engineering at Dartmouth.

She notes further that the attrition rate away from the sciences was twice as high for women as for men. Ms. Muller and others decided that young women needed some special encouragement to stick with their scientific inclinations. Their idea: a program called Women in Science (WIS), which immediately links freshmen women to faculty members and upper-division students in their areas of interest.

Muller points out that the program has been operating for just three years, so it's a little early to assess its long-term affect on graduates. But she sees some positive indicators, such as a jump in the proportion of incoming women, up to 55 percent, who express a preference for science. Muller says that may have something to do with the word getting out about Dartmouth's special effort to nurture scientific careers for women.

Amy Palmer, a junior, exemplifies the program's potential. She arrived at Dartmouth three years ago with an interest in chemistry, though her high school had not been particularly strong in that field. The WIS program enabled her to immediately get in touch with other women who were involved in chemistry. For one thing, the program offers freshmen a list of faculty members offering internships for women.

Ms. Palmer heard of the work on the carcinogenic effects of chromium being done by Karen Wetterhahn in the chemistry department and "blitzed" Professor Wetterhahn about it - she used the campus's ubiquitous electronic mail system to ask about the project. An internship was worked out for Palmer, and the result has been three years of painstaking, perhaps groundbreaking, research for her.

Palmer works in Wetterhahn's laboratory daily, often on weekends. During the current term, her hours in the lab sometimes total 60 to 80 a week, since this is her "leave" term that she can use as she chooses, an option open to all Dartmouth students.

Palmer has declared a major in biophysical chemistry, a step she might not have taken, she says, except for the substantial support she got through the WIS program.

Christina Ullrich, another junior, is a biology major. She also took advantage of the program in its first year. Like Palmer, she has spent three years on the same research project - in her case, an inquiry into herbicide resistance in plants, which has required her to grow mutant varieties and try to isolate the interaction of herbicides and enzymes in plant cells. She, too, has devoted a "leave" term to the work. …

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