SOURCE: Piazza

September 17, 2012 14:57 ET

Piazza and Harvey Mudd College Launch First Online Community Mentorship Program to Support STEM Women

Astronaut Mae Jemison and Caltech Chemist Jackie Barton Join 500 Other Female Technologists in WitsOn Program

CLAREMONT, CA and PALO ALTO, CA--(Marketwire - Sep 17, 2012) -  Harvey Mudd College and Piazza today inaugurated the first online community mentorship program to support students pursuing degrees in science, technology, engineering and math. The program, known as WitsOn (Women in Technology Sharing Online) connects undergraduates pursuing STEM degrees with female mentors from industry and academia who can speak from personal experience about issues of particular concern to young women. Thirty-six leading colleges and universities have signed on to be part of the program. Five hundred women from 60 different companies and universities will serve as mentors, and 10,000 undergraduates from STEM fields have already signed up to participate. The program begins Oct. 1. Students can register at https://piazza.com/witson.

In the wake of Internet debates about whether women can "have it all," the WitsOn program encourages students to ask mentors questions about how they've balanced commitments to career, family, faith, and community. More popular questions will be answered by a diverse group of mentors from dozens of schools and companies, with lead mentors answering by video. Mentors include Astronaut Mae Jemison, Caltech Chemist Jackie Barton, Cisco CTSO Padma Warrior, former Welch-Allyn CEO Julie Shimer, Microsoft VP Julie Larson-Green, and Harvey Mudd College President Maria Klawe.

WitsOn uses Piazza's social learning platform, a collaboration tool for college students allowing them to conduct academic work under the guidance of their instructors. In less than two years, Piazza has grown from a handful of students at Stanford to 500,000 across the world, in thousands of classes ranging in size from six to 12,000.

"I built Piazza to be a great online platform for class Q&A because as a shy girl studying computer science, I wanted to ask questions of my peers and professors but lacked the confidence to open my mouth," said Pooja Sankar, CEO of Piazza. "WitsOn extends that question and answer paradigm beyond the classroom, by creating a network of students and mentors that's larger and more diverse than any single college could be."

Harvey Mudd College is a leader in addressing the gender imbalance in technical fields. The latest first-year class at the celebrated engineering school is nearly evenly split between women and men -- 47 percent female, 53 percent male. Forty percent of computer science degrees go to female students, and about 40 percent of the faculty is female.

"WitsOn is a wonderful opportunity to take some of the things we've learned at Harvey Mudd College and extend them to the world at large," said President Klawe. "We've seen that mentors help young people to envision successful outcomes for themselves. That's so important for young women in technology-related fields, who in many cases still don't encounter older people who resemble themselves."

The job market for graduates in science and technology remains robust. The unemployment rate for students with engineering degrees is remarkably low and demand is increasing. "In the past, we've been able to count on an influx of foreign graduates to fill our engineering jobs," said Charles Vest, president of the National Academy of Engineering and President Emeritus of MIT. "With the rising economies of China and India, that is no longer true, so we must do everything we can to develop our native-born talent. I'm really excited to support WitsOn because more women in technology will mean more job growth for the nation as a whole."

WitsOn is open to any undergraduate student in a U.S. or Canadian college or university. Instructors and administrators can also enroll their students in the program directly. The program runs from Oct. 1 through Nov. 9. Details and registration are available at https://piazza.com/witson.

WitsOn Lead Institutions

  • Caltech
  • Claremont Graduate University
  • Claremont McKenna College
  • Cornell
  • Georgia Tech
  • Harvey Mudd College
  • Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science at UCLA
  • Keck Graduate Institute
  • Kettering
  • Michigan State University
  • MIT
  • Olin
  • Penn State
  • Pitzer College
  • Pomona College
  • Princeton
  • Purdue
  • Scripps College
  • Stanford
  • UBC
  • UC Berkeley
  • UCI (UC Irvine)
  • UCSC
  • UCSD
  • Univ. of Illinois Urbana-Champaign
  • University of Alberta
  • University of Maryland College Park
  • University of Oregon
  • University of Texas at Austin
  • University of Toronto
  • University of Washington
  • University of Wisconsin- Madison
  • USC
  • WPI
  • Yale

Companies Providing Mentors

  • Amazon
  • Apple
  • Arsenal Medical
  • ATS Consulting
  • Beckman Coulter
  • Biomedical Research Services
  • Bio-Rad
  • Boeing
  • Bristol-Myers Squibb Pharmaceutical Company
  • Broadcom
  • Cisco
  • Davis Systems
  • DE Shaw
  • Dreambox
  • Facebook
  • Glyde Corporation
  • Google
  • Hammer Tutoring
  • Hewlett-Packard
  • Honeywell
  • IBM
  • Intel
  • Jet Propulsion Laboratory
  • Lam Research
  • LaserFiche
  • Liquid Entertainment
  • Living Classroom Foundation
  • Lockheed Martin
  • Logic PD
  • Mazzetti Nash Lipsey Burch
  • Meditech
  • Medtronic MiniMed, Inc.
  • Microsoft
  • NAVAIR
  • Neustar
  • OpenCell Technologies, Inc.
  • Palantir
  • Pixel Qi Corporation
  • Piazza
  • Qualcomm
  • ReproSource
  • Ryan Snyder Associates
  • Schlumberger
  • Simpson Strong-Tie
  • Tesla Motors
  • Thomson Reuters
  • Trex Enterprises Corporation
  • Warner Brothers
  • Welch Allyn

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