About WiSE

Welcome to WiSE! We are Duke University’s advocacy group for graduate and postdoc women in the STEM fields.

The group originated from several women-in-science initiatives sponsored at the university from 1989 through 1993. At that time, students, faculty, and administrators agreed that Duke needed to accomplish two goals: increase the number of women faculty members and students in science and engineering, and provide programmatic support for open discussion of science and gender issues.

WiSE serves as a liaison between women science and engineering students and the administration, and sponsors events in which women faculty members and students in science and engineering can come together and share experiences and ideas for change. WiSE is supported by grants from the Office of Graduate Student Affairs and the Graduate and Professional Student Council.

How WiSE Began

The Duke Women in Science and Engineering Group is the result of six years of women in science initiatives at this university. In 1989 graduate students in the Zoology and Botany departments surveyed perceptions of the graduate school experience among their peers and confirmed the presence of gender differences. Relative to their male peers, women consistently ranked their abilities lower, reported a greater loss of self-confidence, and were more likely to seriously consider leaving graduate school.

For the next two years, a mixed-gender Women in Science Discussion Group composed of graduate students, faculty, and administrators laid the groundwork for an NSF-funded project, which was conducted from 1992 to 1993. This initiative consisted of a series of seminars which explored the culture of graduate school from the perspectives of both students and faculty in the sciences and engineering. At the conclusion of the project, it was agreed that Duke needed to both increase the visibility and presence of women scientists and engineers and provide programmatic support for open discussion of science and gender issues.

To address these needs, a group of volunteer women graduate students and postdoctoral assocatiates from a number of science and engineering departments has been working since 1993 to transform the NSF model project into an active Women In Science and Engineering (WISE) initiative on the Duke campus. Originally based in the Hudson Engineering Building, WISE was affiliated with the Women’s Center from 1994 to 2012. Today the organization is run by a graduate student program coordinator, and a group of volunteer graduate students and post-docs, aided by administrative support from the Women’s Center and financial support from a variety of Duke University offices.

See below for a more detailed history of WiSE from 1989-1998.

Past WiSE Program Coordinators

These women have shaped and served our organization. Thanks!

2016-2017: Julia Roberts and Candise Henry

2015-2016: Emily Boehm and Caroline Amoroso

2014-2015: Caroline Amoroso and Sarah Kleinstein

2013-2014: Emily Boehm

2011-2013: Irene Liu and Marisa Macias

2009-2011: Cynthia Tedore

2007-2009: Phoebe Lee and Erica Tsai

2005-2007: Tong Ren

2004-2005: Farheen Ali

2002-2004: Margaret Couvillon

2001-2002: Heather Rhodes (formerly Heather Chisum)

1998-2001: Susan Williams

1997-1998: Kate DeBruin and Kathi Dantley

We don’t have info for prior to 1997. If you worked with WiSE back then, let us know.

The history of WiSE initiatives at Duke (1989-1998)

Summer, 1989: Discussion Group on Gender and Science

Graduate students from the Departments of Botany and Zoology met to discuss issues of gender and science.

Fall, 1989: Graduate Student Survey

A student authored survey for graduate students in the Departments of Botany and Zoology focused on perceptions and attitudes toward graduate school. The results illuminated many gender related differences in graduate school experiences and concluded that women, as compared to their male counterparts, have lower self confidence, experience a greater loss of self confidence during graduate school, and are more likely to seriously consider leaving graduate school.

Fall, 1991: Women in Science Discussion Group

Initiated by Dr. Jean O’Barr and Dr. Charles Putman, this series brought together graduate students, faculty, and administrators to discuss the recruitment of women into science. The group concluded that the environment of science, rather than the recruitment practices themselves, needed to be altered if scientific fields were to be made more attractive to women.

1992 – 1993: NSF Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) Model Project

Directed by Mary Wyer, this project included three separate discussion groups comprised of various combinations of graduate students and faculty. All three groups agreed that changes need to be made to improve the climate for graduate women in science and engineering. In particular, they advocated the increased visibility of women, programmatic support and open discussion of gender issues, and faculty responsibility for the professional futures of graduate women.

1993 – 1998: Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) Group

Created by graduate students that participated in the NSF model project, WISE receives an annual budget of $3000 from the Clare Booth Luce Fund. In the summer of 1994, the Group affiliated with the Women’s Center, providing office space and administrative support. WISE offers a support network as well as programming on issues of concern to women in science and engineering. The Group’s focus is primarily graduate women in the sciences and engineering, but events attract people from all facets of the Duke community.

Efforts toward creating a center for WiSE (1994-1998)

1994: Graduate students involved with WISE come to the conclusion that, as a group, they do not have the time or resources to fully address the concerns raised by the various discussion groups or to significantly impact the climate for women in the sciences and engineering at Duke. The decision was made to seek assistance at the university level.

March 24, 1995: Members of the WISE steering committee meet with Provost John Strohbehn to propose the creation of an institutional program for women in science and engineering.

April 18, 1995: The presentation is repeated for President Nannerl Keohane.

May 1, 1995: Dr. Strohbehn requests a formal proposal outlining a program for Women in Science and Engineering to be funded by the Office of the Provost. An implementation task force is to be formed when the proposal is complete.

July 7, 1995: The completed proposal is delivered to the Provost and a number of other senior administrators.

August 28, 1995: The Provost replies to the proposal cautiously and raises some new concerns. The proposal is to be shown to other administrators before a definitive response is made.

November 27, 1995: After receiving no further information from the Provost, a letter is sent responding to the points made in the memo of August 28, 1995 and asking for the creation of an implementation task force. No response has been received.

January 5, 1996: A letter is sent to Dr. Strohbehn requesting a meeting to discuss the future of the WISE proposal.

April 3, 1996: WiSE leaders meet with Provost Strohbehn and Vice Provost Judith Ruderman. A task force is convened to study the proposal and make a recommendation for further action.

Summer, 1996: Working with Judith Ruderman, the WiSE group selects task force members as well as a chair, Carolyn Doyle.

September 18, 1996: The task force meets for the first time. Subsequent meetings are held on October 23 and November 20, 1996 and January 15, February 11, and March 11, 1997. At the conclusion of the last meeting, a report has been drafted and Carolyn is to finish it and distribute for comments.

September, 1997: The report still unfinished, the WiSE groups takes over and rewrites the report. A final task force meeting is held on December 10, 1997 to finalize the report.

January 26, 1998: The WiSE task force report is submitted to the Provost.

May 8, 1998: An informal e-mail from Judith Ruderman informs WiSE that the proposal has been discussed but that a compelling rationale for the graduate part had not been presented. The Graduate School claims to have new data indicating that the attrition rates of men and women are identical. However, the data was recent and therefore only took into account the first few years (no more than three) of a student’s graduate school career.