WISE program up and running
by Kelly Foss
After a tough start, the Women in Science and Engineering Newfoundland and Labrador’s (WISE NL) Summer Student Employment Program is up and running. But getting there was no easy task. Changes to the Canada Summer Jobs program meant that six weeks before the program was set to begin, program administrator Mercia Conway received a call saying the organization would receive no funding for the 30 positions they had anticipated receiving. That kicked the group into gear.
“WISE was quick to respond with an emergency meeting that very day,” she said. “We organized a media campaign and started contacting government leaders and supporters. We got in touch with all of the former participants and supervisors and had everyone contact both levels of government and the media asking for support. All of the province’s members of parliament were working on it and we had such great feed back from everyone. I was truly amazed by the support.”
WISE is a non-profit volunteer organization which aims to increase the participation of women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics careers by increasing awareness that these professions are rewarding and exciting options for women. Currently in its 18th year, the program has successfully placed more than 600 young women in paid research positions at Memorial University and its partner organizations. Participants are hired from across the province.
WISE’s hard work paid off. The Gander Service Canada office contributed five positions while Corner Brook gave four. Four weeks later, and just one week before the program was set to begin, WISE received a call at 4 p.m. saying the St. John’s office would add another 17 positions.
“I literally had a week to pull everything together,” said Ms. Conway. “Normally I would have spent those weeks organizing the program. But instead I had to spend that time securing the funding. Right up to the Friday before the program started I was still hiring students. We were scrambling to make travel arrangements and to find accommodations. It was a real challenge to pull it all together.”
The program not only survived, but ultimately ended up with 28 positions, more than it had last year. Memorial University’s Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science contributed one position to the program as did the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador. The Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of Newfoundland and Labrador also provided additional support. That allowed participants to be hired from various communities across the province including St. Anthony, Lark Harbour, McCallum and Dunville.
Danielle Martin is one of the young women who succeeded in finding a summer placement through the program. A resident of Churchill Falls, she’s employed for the summer as a marine safety research assistant at the Institute for Ocean Technology in St. John’s.
“I’ve always been interested in science, but just because you like a subject in school, it doesn’t mean you’re going to like it as a job,” she said. “So this is a great way of getting hands-on experience in the field of science, as well as valuable work experience. It’s also a good opportunity to get used to the MUN campus and to meet new people.”
Her current work involves assisting in the testing of life rafts used in different environmental conditions. As the rafts are tested under different conditions, Ms. Martin’s job is to monitor the “health” of the raft occupants. A Grade 11 student at Eric G. Lambert School in Labrador, she plans to attend Memorial University in the fall of 2008.
“One reason I wanted to do this is because I’m still not sure what I want to study,” she said. “Even though I’m only working in the one position, you get to talk to the people around you and other girls in the program so you can find out about other aspects of science. It’s a great way to find out what’s out there.”