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Evolution of the Women in Materials Program: a Collaboration between Simmons College and the Cornell Center for Materials Research

  • Velda Goldberg (a1), Leonard J. Soltzberg (a2), Michael D. Kaplan (a3), Richard W. Gurney (a4), Nancy E. Lee (a5), George G. Malliaras (a6) and Helene R. Schember (a7)...

Abstract

The Women in Materials (WIM) program is an on-going collaboration between Simmons College and the Cornell Center for Materials Research (CCMR). Beginning in 2001, during the initial four years of the project, materials-related curricula were developed, a new joint research project was begun, and nearly 1/2 of Simmons College science majors participated in materials-related research during their first two years as undergraduates. We have previously reported the student outcomes as a result of this initial stage of the project, demonstrating a successful partnership between a primarily undergraduate women's college and a federally funded Materials Research Science and Engineering Center. Here, we report the evolution and impact of this project over the last three years, subsequent to the initial seed funding from the National Science Foundation. The Women in Materials project is now a key feature of the undergraduate science program at Simmons College and has developed into an organizing structure for materials-related research at the College. Initially, three faculty members were involved and now eight faculty members from all three laboratory science departments participate (biology, chemistry, and physics). The program now involves research related to optoelectronics, polymer synthesis, biomaterials, and green chemistry, and each semester about 80% of the students who participate in these projects are 1st and 2nd year science majors. This structure has led to enhanced funding within the sciences, shared instrumentation facilities, a new minor in materials science, and a spirit of collaboration among science faculty and departments. It has also spawned a new, innovative curricular initiative, the Undergraduate Laboratory Renaissance, now in its second year of implementation, involving all three laboratory science departments in incorporating actual, on-going research projects into introductory and intermediate science laboratories. Most importantly, the Women in Materials program has embedded materials-related research into our science curriculum and has deepened and broadened the educational experience for our students; the student outcomes speak to the program's success. Approximately 70% of our science majors go on to graduate school within two years of completing their undergraduate degree. Our students also have a high acceptance rate at highly competitive summer research programs, such as Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) programs funded by the National Science Foundation.

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