First published in AWIS Magazine Volume 29, issue 1 (Winter 2000)
When women students end up in the University of California at Berkeley's physical science programs and sit down in a room full of equations and Greek symbols, it's not surprising many of them feel lost. Consider that only 26 of the 125 declared majors in the physics department are women, and it's even more understandable that some feel like they're in over their heads.
"Berkeley is a large school and it's easy for undergrads to feel lost, even after declaring their major," said Kristine Lang, founder of the Society for Women in the Physical Sciences mentoring group. "I wanted to provide someone with similar experiences they could talk to, and who could encourage them to finish their majors."
Lang, who is pursuing her PhD in physics found a successful way to break the ice-cream, that is. Through such activities as liquid nitrogen ice cream socials, make-a-motor workshops, and discussion panels, she's helping undergraduate women see their science degrees in nonthreatening terms and stick through to graduation.
The Berkeley organization provides two major services to members: mentoring and events. The 10 mentoring groups consist of about five undergrads and are informally led by a woman graduate student. Groups take lab tours, talk about physics sub-fields, visit science museums, attend seminars, and review for exams. Mentors lend advice on everything from classes to graduate school to finding research positions.
"I was overwhelmed by the response to the program," Lang said. "There are 26 women who are declared physics majors at Berkeley, but I have 60 in the mentoring program. I hope to increase the number of women majors by keeping them from leaving physics early on."