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Mentoring program for women in engineering redesigned, expanded

Mizzou now has a revamped mentoring program for women, featuring a redesign of the application process and increased options for participants.

The program used to be part of the Society of Women Engineers but now operates independently of the organization. Megan Schmidt, the director of mentorship, heads up the new Mizzou Engineering Mentoring (MEM) Program. She said when she started at Mizzou, she was placed in a residence hall with predominantly journalism students.

“I’d be frantically studying in my room for a calculus exam and nobody around me was taking that class. It was lonely,” Schmidt said. “If students find that close knit family — especially in the departments where there aren’t many women — it’s a lot easier.”

Dr. Heather K. Hunt, the faculty adviser for the MEM Program, said she hopes the program will help retain female engineering students by providing a strong support network. One of the major changes to the program is the elimination of the requirement that participants also be members of the Society of Women Engineers.

“We’d like to be as open to all groups as possible,” Hunt said. “It’s there to help them develop professionally.”

Also new this year is a more rigorous application process that will help match mentors and protégés together based on their career goals, degree emphases and interests. Students can sign up to be a mentor, protégé or both. There’s also the option to be a “networking member” who can attend events but won’t be responsible for mentoring or being mentored by someone else.

“It’s not just going to be the mentor and protégé. We’re all going to be there for them all the time,” Schmidt said.

Students from every level can participate in the program. Schmidt said there has also been interest from graduate students to work with undergraduates. Since she is a senior and interested in graduate school, Schmidt hopes to find a mentor for herself as well.

Hunt has offered to mentor students interested in an academic career. She attended graduate school at the California Institute for Technology and served on the advisory board of the mentoring program there. She said the redesigned program is partially based on the Caltech model.

“I learned a lot in that process about how to appropriately mentor students,” Hunt said. “The number of female students there is shockingly low.”

Hunt’s family has a history of women in engineering — both her mother and sister are engineers. She attended Iowa State University for her bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering and said she found great female role models there.

“We’re trying to increase the number and retention of women in engineering,” Hunt said. “If these students have a strong mentoring program they tend to last longer because they have a strong support network.”

The number of women enrolled in an undergraduate program at the College of Engineering increased from 12.5 percent in fall 2009 to 16.4 percent in fall 2011. Nationally, 17.9 percent of undergraduates enrolled in engineering programs were women in 2009 according to the National Science Foundation.

The revamped program will include one professional and one social event each month. Professional events planned include a resume review, etiquette dinner and a faculty panel. The first will be a speaker addressing what companies look for from students at career fairs. Scheduled for Sept. 17, the time and location of the event will be announced soon.

Schmidt said the social events are mostly the same this year because of the positive response from those involved last year. The first will be kickball on the quad with snacks and drinks available on Sept. 22, at 2 p.m. Other events will include a barbecue, ice cream social, pumpkin carving and a craft event to get ready for E-Week.

Beyond that, mentors and protégés will be encouraged to meet — there are prizes for those who meet the most and attend events. Hunt said she’s offered to host a dinner at her house as one of the incentives. Participants also have the option of being mentored in a small group, with one mentor having two or three protégés.

Schmidt said the split in exit surveys last year of what was preferable — one-on-one or group mentoring — was evenly split.

“Some people will prefer that one-on-one attention but others won’t talk at all,” Schmidt said. “And it’s the same thing in groups.”

For anyone interested in the program, there will be an informational sessions Wednesday, Aug. 29, at 5:30 p.m. in Ketcham Auditorium and on Tuesday, Sept. 4 at 4 p.m., in a location that has yet to be determined.

Hunt said she’s optimistic about increasing participation in the program but “my nightmare is either that no one will join or everyone will. We’re set up for about 100 people.”

The application for the mentoring program can be found at https://orgsync.com/47200/chapter. Applications are due to a folder in the Engineering Student Services Office by 4 p.m. Sept. 7.

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