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Word to the WiSE: Supporting women in STEM

 While every student eventually reaches a point where their workload intensifies, STEM and engineering students, in particular, experience this to an extreme degree. Not only is the workload to blame, but there is also a perceived commensurately greater inability to cope, as well as an inability to find help. 

       So, where do future scientists turn to find support, or, possibly, even a sense of community? Especially if they come from a background that, as multiple studies have found, hasn’t perhaps been welcomed into the sciences as others EDIT? On January 21st at 4:00 P.M. in a brightly-lit SAM 101 I sat down with the current president of WiSE (Women in Science and Engineering), Rebecca Barbanell to answer exactly that.

     Math Path, as it was called, was busy, with students coming together to receive tutoring in subjects from pre-college arithmetic to college algebra. David Alvarez, the tutoring center facilitator, invited me into the back where Barbanell, seated with two students, was busy explaining function notation. After a couple moments passed she was able to introduce herself.

Michael: Hi, Rebecca. Or should I call you Becca? Let’s pretend like we don’t know each other!

Becca: Oh, Becca is fine!

Michael: OK. Thanks for taking the time to speak with me. I hope you don’t mind if we start off with a few boilerplate interview questions.

Becca: [Laughter.] Sure, that’s fine.

Michael: Excellent! Let’s get to know you a bit, first of all. What’s your major? What are you studying?

Becca: This is my last quarter at Seattle Central and I am applying for the program at UW called human centered design and engineering.

Michael: Oh, cool! What made you join WiSE? What is WiSE? I suppose I should ask as though I don’t know. Women in Science and Engineering, right?

Becca: [More laughter.] Yep, that’s it.

Michael: Coo! How did you come to join WiSE? What got you started?

Becca:, I was taking an engineering 110 with Dr. Heller and he mention WiSE Club. I went on the school website for clubs and emailed the club. That is when I met Amanda Barela, Camila Christensen

, Devlin Amos, and you Michael. I also found out more about WiSE by attending WiSE Conference at UW. From then on, I wanted to be a part of an organization that supported Women in STEM.  Especially since engineering is a male-dominated field.

Michael:  I take it that is the direction of the club?

Becca: Yeah, exactly. My main focus is creating a mentorship model where members support each other. It’s not about doing a bunch of things. We have tried that. As students we already have so many things to do. 

Michael: How fitting that…you’re hosting an event soon, right? Engineering and Mentor Night. It seems like a wildly appropriate name. Can you tell us a little bit about it?

Becca: Yes! Engineering and Mentor Night is an event where engineers from the Puget Sound Engineering Council will be volunteer their time and available to help with any question’s students have, how to be a successful engineer, and what kind of fields there are in engineering.  There will be engineers from Boeing, Microsoft, and other engineering fields. As well as a panel of Alumni for students to engage in with a Q and A discussion. Don’t forget to bring your questions. I am really excited to have past students come and tell their story to present students. I think it is super helpful to be able to interact with each other, to know that it is possible. 

Michael: Mostly female engineers, I take it?

Becca: [Laughter.] No not everyone is female engineers. But I do have to say that there will be two female alumni, one is an environmental engineer and the other is an electrical engineer. We also have a male that is a Mechanical Engineer. There is still TBA alumni that I am trying to get on board. We would love to have a diverse panel to fit all the needs for the student body. 

Michael: Ah, that sounds pretty cool. Is this the first Engineering and Mentor Night WiSE has hosted?

Becca: Engineering and Mentor Night has been going on for a while. I’ve been to two of them. They were very beneficial, but as a student I felt overwhelmed and I had a hard time with wanting to interact with the mentors. So, I told this to the main director Luis Leon for the event. He told me that Highline school district did a Q&A panel. And we decided that having an Alumni panel would be beneficial to create more interaction with students. 

Michael: Sure, that makes complete sense. Before we wrap up here, I just have a couple more questions…is it only going to be WiSE at Engineering and Mentor Night, or will there be other clubs involved?

Becca: One club can’t do this alone. That’s why I decided to collaborate with SACNAS. I also want to include TRiO, MESA, Rocket Club, and Computer Science and Engineering Club. MESA and SACNAS, in particular because they’re groups that also help STEM students from underrepresented backgrounds. I haven’t reached out to some of the clubs yet, but there will still be information about them at Engineering and Mentor Night, regardless!

Michael: Wow, that’s a lot. 

Becca: [Laughter.] Yeah, I think of my role as president is to be a liaison. I connect people to other people.

Michael: It must have taken a lot of support to put this together.

Becca: Yes. I want it to be clear how thankful I am to everyone, especially the people at Puget Sound Energy Council, SAM Faculty, SORC, Club members, students and of course Marilyn Saavedra-Leyva of the MESA program, Seattle Central in general for making this happen. 

I thanked Becca and wished her luck. A student who happened to pass through Math Path as the interview concluded, Anthony Steinhauer, said, “That sounds like a great idea. I’d be super excited for that,” when I asked him about his thoughts on the event. Straightening my jacket, I made my to the lobby. Later that evening, as I made my way out of the SAM building, it occurred to me that, while I couldn’t necessarily put myself in the same shoes as a female student going into an all-male field, it was nice to know that they have someone else in their corner who could.

Engineering and Mentor Night will be held in the BE Atrium on January 30th, from 6-8 P.M.. For more information, contact Rebecca Barbanell at

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