NET NEWS: Mentoring by E-mail

Science  25 Sep 1998:
Vol. 281, Issue 5385, pp. 1919c
DOI: 10.1126/science.281.5385.1919c

Want to lend an ear to a young woman just getting started on a scientific career? One solution might be MentorNet, a new project that hopes this academic year to forge e-mail connections between 500 women studying engineering, science, or math and mentors working in industry (http://www.mentornet.net/).

Women are particularly scarce in engineering, making up less than 9% of the profession. MentorNet's executive director, Carol Muller, says that although e-mail lacks some advantages of face-to-face conversations, studies suggest it can help “students feel less intimidated approaching someone who may be much older and more powerful.” A computer helps match MentorNet students and mentors, and program staff members also provide training and advice.

The project follows a pilot last spring when MentorNet connected 204 undergrad and grad students from 15 universities to mentors at about 90 companies, who talked about everything from job interviews to family pressures. MentorNet “has been groundbreaking,” says Suzie Laurich-McIntyre of the Center for Women in Science and Engineering at the University of Washington, Seattle, in that it is the first to give busy professionals a way to interact with students despite their location or tight schedules. MentorNet hopes to reach 5000 pairs in 2001–02.

The AT&T and Intel foundations and the federal government have kicked in $500,000 to start MentorNet, which was begun by Women in Engineering Programs and Advocates Network, a nonprofit group of academics and professionals. The project isn't the only new Internet effort to encourage would-be women engineers: The National Academy of Engineering has just launched a Web site offering career advice and success stories (www.nae.edu/cwe).

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