Support network for women in STEM receives funding from the National Science Foundation

By Leslie Streeter

Washington State University (WSU) Tri-Cities will team up with three universities to implement a National Science Foundation (NSF) funded project to support minoritized women students in STEM through a co-mentoring network called WiSEN (Women in STEM Education Network).

Jillian Cadwell, research associate at WSU Tri-Cities will work alongside project leads from Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) and sub-awardees from Gonzaga University and University of Montana. The nearly $600,000 award from the NSF will be used to create a network model to connect women in STEM students.

“Research shows that mentoring is a successful and vital means to support and retain women in STEM fields,” said Cadwell.

As a research associate in the WSU School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and a member of the C-Y-F, an international, informal co-mentoring network for women faculty/researchers in academia, Cadwell knows the impact that mentoring can have on women in STEM.

“This could change the trajectory for institutions to improve equality in STEM and the way we are supporting women students,” said Cadwell. “That’s what is most exciting to me.”

The shared vision for WiSEN is to support women in STEM majors by providing a platform for connections. The group aims to celebrate cultural wealth, shared leadership, career-connected mentoring and recovery from the impact of COVID disruptions.

To be eligible for WiSEN students must be enrolled as a part or full-time, undergraduate or graduate student; pursuing a field of study that falls under a STEM major; and self-identify as a “woman”.

A unique feature of the project is that each aspect will be designed and implemented by women with the same or similar minoritized backgrounds as the students. Cadwell and the other project leads are faculty researchers and mentors, and their backgrounds are inclusive of Afro-Caribbean, European American, and Asian immigrants, giving them particular insight into the challenges faced by minoritized women.

The WiSEN co-mentoring network strategy will be informed by research on innovative mentoring models alongside the experiences and expressed needs of culturally unique and experientially diverse undergraduate and graduate students (student fellows) across the four institutions. As the WiSEN model is piloted, research data gathered will help develop best practices for mentoring minoritized women in STEM. After the two-year pilot the team will seek additional funding to expand the program to more universities.

The WiSEN program will also collaborate with Million Women Mentors, for which Cadwell is the Washington state co-chair. The partnership will help expand access to a national network of students, faculty, and corporate partners and help increase STEM networks.

Each partner university will have a WiSEN group with eight spots available for women in STEM students. The WiSEN group on the WSU Tri-Cities campus currently has a waiting list.