WISE promotes female, minority leadership

Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) has allowed for women in STEM to get connected at Baylor. Photo courtesy of Rachel Walkup

By Tatum Mitchell | Staff Writer

Baylor Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) continues living up to its name. WISE started out with brown bag lunches for faculty and has shifted to an organization that provides a safe space for women and minority students in STEM to share their experiences.

Dr. Rizalia Klausmeyer is a senior lecturer in the chemistry and biochemistry department and the director of undergraduate research for the College of Arts & Sciences. Klausmeyer said she started WISE in 2013 to provide a community for professors after they moved into the Baylor Sciences Building.

Around 2017 and 2018, Klausmeyer said two graduate students approached her looking to improve the program. One of the students proposed WISE could be used as a resource for female graduate students to share their research.

“That’s how we started the graduate student seminar series, and we started it right away,” Klausmeyer said. “This is the fourth year that we are doing it, and it’s been really, really good.”

In the monthly seminars, WISE invites or accepts someone to share their studies and research findings on the last Tuesday of every month over Zoom.

“We’re open to everybody,” Klausmeyer said. “This is not just females. We’re not against men. It’s a place where females can come, and they can see other females who have been through [similar experiences]. They can be mentored, and they can find a friendly face that can help them.”

Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, Ph.D. student Grace Aquino is a WISE graduate student co-coordinator. She said she helps facilitate and organize the organization’s seminars and spotlight series.

Albuquerque, N.M., junior and undergraduate social media coordinator Rachel Walkup said one of her favorite things about WISE is the spotlight series, which features stories of women and minorities in STEM on social media.

“I’ve learned a lot about how different women have progressed in their career here,” Walkup said. “It’s just been really interesting to see; I think that’s going to help guide me in the future. It’s nice to see that support system and community.”

Aquino said there is a tendency for women to trickle out of STEM jobs due to a lack of support as well as challenges male counterparts do not face. Aquino said WISE is trying to prevent this leaky pipeline by creating opportunities for sharing and mentorship.

“It’s a place for discussion,” Aquino said. “It’s a place for mentorship. It’s a place for networking. Hopefully, the big picture goal or long-term goal is to advance the plight of women in academia and in STEM specifically.”

Klausmeyer and Aquino both said they want to expand and eventually include undergraduate students in WISE as well.

“I want to plan it well because we need to mentor the younger generation,” Klausmeyer said. “We need to develop in them that grit that they need to finish that Ph.D., so that’s at least what I’ve always wanted to do with WISE.”

From a graduate student’s perspective, Aquino said there is room for improvement with support from a university standpoint. Aquino said she has not officially proposed anything; however, in the future, she would like to see Baylor invest in a formal WISE to improve its presence on campus.

“If the university can recognize WISE as a need to promote social health in women in science and engineering, then we can have more resources, more women,” Aquino said. “We can have a broader impact across campus.”

The CommuniTEA Party is an upcoming WISE event on April 26 in which female students can meet other women in STEM over a cup of tea or coffee.

Klausmeyer said her door, and WISE, is always open as a resource.

“I hope that WISE is there to help our students become faculty and be successful in what they do,” Klausmeyer said. “I just want to see them flourish. I don’t want them to go through what some of us have gone through. I want them to actually just say ‘You know what, it’s not going to be easy, but we’re going to stick together and we’re going to do it together.’ That would be fantastic if we can do that. I want to be there for them.”