Since I had such a positive experience with NASA SHARP, my father encouraged me to apply to live in Berkeley's WISE dormitory for female students pursuing STEM majors. Students attended weekly seminars connecting them to STEM faculty and research opportunities. Many of the students were taking the same difficult math, science, and engineering classes, so we studied together and supported each other through these challenging courses. I started at Berkeley as a geology major, but the demands of the very hard science courses proved very tough for me. I considered switching to an easier social science degree, but my girlfriends encouraged me to stick it out in science. Today, the women I met at WISE continue to be my best friends and support me tremendously in my professional life.
The power of the female bond cannot be underestimated. As women seek to break the glass ceiling in male dominated fields of science and engineering, they break through more easily when supported by other women, especially their peers. Residential programs literally provide women the safe space to share their challenges and support each other to overcome hardship. The informal space of a collegial environment allows the opportunity for conversations that may not arise in more formal programs. Living together allows women to connect in unique ways.
As advocates of women in STEM explore options to close the gender parity gap, they should consider the power of gender specific residential programs. Many college campuses have women in science and engineering residential programs. Advocates can explore how these programs can be enhanced. Where such dorm programs do not exist, companies and philanthropists can consider making long-term capital investments to endow buildings designated for women in STEM. In addition to college dorms, advocates can create residential programs for high school girls such as summer programs. Building communities of the Sisterhood of Science will provide young women the necessary support systems to excel in their careers.