Program gets WiSE about gender

At a university so evenly balanced between male and female students, it might seem easy to assume that the same is true for other groups on campus. Among faculty, however, gender is not always as equally represented.

The discrepancies between men and women in the science, technology and engineering fields have been widely acknowledged on a national level. According to the most recent data from the National Science Foundation, in 2006, women constituted 28 percent of tenure-track faculty members in science and engineering and 19.4 percent of full-time faculty members in science and engineering nationwide.

Along with several other organizations at USC, the Women in Science and Engineering program hopes to foster greater gender equality in full-time and tenure-track faculty positions. WiSE specifically encourages greater representation of female faculty in the science and engineering fields.


The program focuses on faculty in Viterbi School of Engineering and the science and mathematics departments of the Dana and David Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences.

When WiSE was founded on a $20 million anonymous donation in 2000, the university had only 15 female tenure or tenure-track faculty in the STEM fields. Now, the university boasts 49.

WiSE Program Director Leana Golubchik attributed this change to the program’s efforts to make greater strides to attract women into these departments at USC.

“We always advocate open searches, and finding the people that the departments would like,” Golubchik said. “But if it happens that a woman rises to the top of the search, we work with the various dean’s offices to help attract her here to USC. Some of the faculty members we have brought here have been absolutely phenomenal.”

The organization also offers grants called WiSE Fellowships to accomodate Pregnancy, Birth of a Child or Adoption to help female faculty members accommodate becoming new mothers. The grants apply not only to full-time faculty, but also to Ph.D. and post-doctoral students, and allow them to balance their careers with their families.

Sarah Fried-Gintis, WiSE’s program manager, said the grants allow new mothers to keep their careers on track after the birth of a child.

“They are really able to assist new parents and new mothers either before the birth, when they can’t be present in the lab, and after the birth when they have an infant and they have responsibilities to take care of the child,” Fried-Gintis said. “We often work in collaboration with the graduate schools parental leave program so that they get the assistance they need.”

WiSE also offers child care subsidies of $1,400 to help female Ph.D. students, post-doctoral students and faculty members manage the challenges of furthering their careers and taking care of their families.

Additionally, the program works to create a more welcoming community for women in these fields. Golubchik said she has seen continual growth in the turnout for WiSE’s distinguished speaker series and other events. She sees this as a sign of the community of women becoming more tightly knit.

“I think the space has given us the opportunity to create this community that we are trying to create, the community of mentorship, where faculty mentor other faculty and students mentor each other, Ph.D. students mentoring undergraduates or post-docs mentoring Ph.D. students,” Golubchik said. “We’d like to see people interacting in this setting and I think having this space has made a huge difference.”


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