The long-term value of mentorship for students in STEM majors is undeniable, especially within underrepresented groups such as women and minorities who often face additional challenges.
In fact, a recent study conducted by University of Massachusetts in Amherst researchers found that female engineering undergraduates who were paired with female mentors felt more motivated and confident, and were less likely to drop out of their courses, than female students with a male mentor or with no mentor at all.
The positive, life-changing effects of mentorship are being seen right here at Drexel University where the Drexel Women in Computing Society’s (WiCS) mentorship program – which pairs more senior WiCS members with underclassmen – grew exponentially in the 2016-17 academic year.
“Since women are a minority in the field of computing and in STEM in general, it’s very important for them to feel that they have a support system – whether it’s through WiCS or not, it’s important for them to have that,” said WiCS President Tamine Mokdissi. “And a lot of times, since women are minorities in their classes, they’re also minorities in co-ops, research and in different things that they do in their major, so they might not necessarily see that support system.”
The program, launched in 2014, now boasts 51 active members, and was initially funded through a grant from the National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT).
The program’s creation was inspired by the personal experiences of WiCS members. As a freshman, Mokdissi frequently experienced “imposter syndrome.”
“I felt like I wasn’t good enough and I didn’t realize that was something that other people felt. But when I joined WiCS and heard other people’s experiences, it made me realize that it’s something that everyone experiences, and that was so reassuring to me,” she said. “I think that the mentorship program is something that will help more women realize that.”
The mentors help mentees with a variety of items, such as working through homework questions, reviewing resumes, or providing co-op and career advice.
The program recently introduced grouping members into “mentorship families.” One “family” is comprised of three women: an underclassman (freshman, sophomore or pre-junior), an upperclassman, and in the third tier, an alumni, graduate student or industry professional.
The club rewards mentorship families based on how many activities they do together throughout the month; the those who have the most activities receive an Arduino (an open-source electronic prototyping platform enabling users to create interactive electronic objects). Activities include exploring the vast STEM resources and research at the University; for example, one of the winning mentorship families attended a graduate tea talk where they listened to doctoral students presenting on their research in computing.
Since 2004, WiCS has helped to support, recruit and retain women pursuing a degree in the broad field of computing. In addition to tackling the STEM gender gap on Drexel’s campus, the group focuses on empowering women students, both through professional development and outreach efforts within the Philadelphia area.
In addition to outreach efforts, every year WiCS makes it possible for a select number of students to attend the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing Conference (GHC) – the world’s largest gathering of women technologists. Drexel CCI proudly served as a platinum sponsor of GHC 17 (Oct. 4-6) in Orlando, FL.
The club also hosts monthly dinners for members of the mentorship program, in addition to other events for all WiCS members.
The group hosted an alumni banquet on May 31 to celebrate the end of the school year. The banquet featured a panel of 10 WiCs alumni speaking about their careers and experiences since leaving Drexel.
Although their membership tends to lean toward computer science students, the WiCS features a variety of majors across Drexel. “I would like to see WiCs expand in the future,” Mokdissi said, “There are so many majors that are also related to computing, like digital media, graphic design, and even game development.”
Mokdissi will end her tenure as WiCS president this month as she graduates from the College of Engineering with a Bachelor of Science in Business and Engineering with a concentration in Electrical and Computer Engineering. After Drexel, she will be working as a program manager at Microsoft in Redmond, WA.
Applications for membership to the mentorship program (now closed) will re-open in Fall Quarter 2017. For updates and for more information, please follow WiCS on Instagram and/or Facebook.