Andria Costello, who this year joined the civil and environmental engineering faculty, started off in biology, which is predominately female at the undergraduate level, she says. After earning a bachelor’s degree in biology from Georgia Tech, she became interested in environmental engineering. She began attending the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, California, to earn a master’s degree. “I don’t feel I’ve been discriminated against because I’m a woman,” she says. “However, when I went to Cal Tech, it was a very male-dominated environment, and I became involved there with WISE. It was a very cohesive, very strong support group for the women on campus. That was my initial introduction to a group specifically for women to support women.”
      Still, the WISE initiative here was not a big factor in her decision to come to SU. “I had other job offers, but I chose Syracuse because of the atmosphere,” she says. “When I interviewed I certainly met Cathy Newton, and Shobha’s my chair so I interacted with her a lot. I knew about this program. Syracuse promotes a very friendly atmosphere for men and women. The college [ECS] is a small community and seems to be close-knit. I felt that the administration and my fellow colleagues would be supportive, and that it was the best atmosphere in which to start my career as a faculty member.”
      She’s become involved with WISE here, and serves with fellow new faculty members Christine Kelly and Julie Hasenwinkel as advisor to the SU chapter of the Society of Women Engineers (SWE). “I know a lot of women whose lives have been affected by the gender issue,” she says. “That’s why I choose to be involved in WISE and SWE. It’s important, especially at the graduate level, to encourage female students and try to keep the retention up.”
      Newton says the new hires have helped make WISE one of the most gratifying projects of her SU career. When she became the first woman to teach in the Department of Earth Sciences in 1983, she says, she never dreamed she would remain the only one for so long. “There is a sense of isolation,” she says. “It’s true when you’re an untenured faculty member, and the sense of isolation actually magnifies as women scholars become more senior. When you’re so busy getting tenure, you barely notice what anybody is doing. But as you move through your career, the differences in salaries, amount of lab space, frequency of national academy elections—these little differences magnify over time.” The experience has made the WISE success that much sweeter. “Imagine working in isolation for 17 years and then suddenly seeing the Suzanne Baldwin appointment,” she says. “You go from being the only woman to suddenly having so many women here, you don’t even know who they all are.”


Inspired by Success
      Bhatia says the WISE lecture series has been an overwhelming success, having brought three prominent speakers to campus within the last year. Open to the public, each forum has drawn a diverse audience from throughout campus and the community. Newton adds: “We focus on educating the community about who this person is, and what her accomplishments are. We try to reach out across the disciplines and into classrooms to make sure we involve as large a group of people as possible in the activities.”
      Ph.D. candidate Hill praised the forums for bringing together such diverse groups. “They are a good time for us to sound off, and talk about things that work and don’t work,” she says. Newton says the lectures act as a catalyst for a range of discussions. “The most gratifying thing is to hear the lecture and then see the question-and-answer session go on for so long, among students and faculty alike, that finally after an hour you have to bring it to a close,” she says. “People want to still be there, asking questions. And then to watch students and faculty stand around together after the lecture talking engineering or science for a long time—that’s what you really hope for; to bring people together.”

      Each speaker also conducts a second talk at local schools. Ruzena Bajcsy, director of the National Science Foundation, met with 30 female students from inner-city schools the day after her talk at SU. “These young girls had the chance to hear from a prominent speaker on computer engineering,” Bhatia says. “Along with those students came their teachers, who seemed very excited to be there.” While the short-term impact of such forums on the high school students is difficult to judge, she says, in the long run, the result will be positive. “When you hear and see, even for a short time, people who are successful, then you may begin to think, ‘If they can do it, I have a chance to do it too.’”
      Bajcsy also met with women faculty members over lunch. “She is a wonderful role model for all of us,” Bhatia says, “a prominent researcher who holds an important position at the National Science Foundation, which can change the direction of research. And she’s raised a family as well. It’s nice to see a woman scientist who’s so comfortable in these roles, prominent yet still down to earth.”
      Newton says Stanford ecologist Pam Madsen made a similar impression on campus. A renowned researcher, National Academy of Sciences member, and mother of two small children, Madsen prompted one student to ask, “How do you do it?” Newton also notes the prominence of the latest speaker, Lynn Margolis, Distinguished University Professor at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. In her September talk, “From Gaia to Gender: Ideas Informed by Science,” she discussed such issues as whether there is enough room on the planet for both human and nonhuman species to coexist. “She’s one of the nation’s most revered scientists,” Newton says. “And she’s credited with a first-order discovery of how our cells evolved from microbial cells. Because this is a major event in evolutionary history, she’s a towering figure, someone known all over the world.”
      The lectures and accompanying social events bring together women faculty members in various disciplines and campuses, including the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry, Newton says. Many men also attend, along with undergraduate and graduate students in scientific and engineering disciplines. “Imagine you’re an undergraduate woman chemistry major,” Newton says. “What’s the likelihood that in the conventional structure you would meet with women scholars in Earth sciences, or faculty members from other schools? That just doesn’t happen.”

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