The WiSE Program at USC: The First Five Years

The Women in Science and Engineering (WiSE) program at USC began in 2000 with a $20 million gift by an anonymous donor for the purpose of increasing the representation of women in science and engineering. The excitement and energy created by the gift generated much activity and discussions on campus about how best to implement it. During the spring of 2000, a series of meetings between university administrators, chairs, and faculty in the USC Viterbi School of Engineering and the USC Dana and David Dornsife College of Letters, Arts, and Sciences were initiated to gather input on how to create programs that would support women at all stages of their careers, from undergraduate students to senior professors.

WiSE Faculty

Driven by the need to redress subtle biases and inequities that hinder the career advancement of women faculty, valuable input on program design came from those affected the most by the program – senior women faculty, who formed the core of what was to become the “WiSE Faculty.” Led by Sarah Bottjer (Biological Sciences), Chiara Nappi (Physics) and Hanna Reisler (Chemistry), the WiSE faculty played a critical role in helping to define and refine the elements of the resulting WiSE program.

In 2000, there were just twelve women faculty in the six departments of USC Dornsife and three in the eight departments of the USC Viterbi School of Engineering. It was immediately clear that the hiring of more WiSE faculty should be the top priority. The WiSE group advocated an ambitious goal: to double the number of women faculty in these two schools over the next five years.

To further nurture the existing community of WiSE faculty, a networking group of tenured and tenure-track WiSE faculty assembled informally once a month to communicate with one another about topics of common interest and the growth and development of the USC WiSE Program. So was born the WiSE faculty monthly networking lunch meetings, which continue to grow in attendance and are held on the last Thursday of each month. In 2001, the invitation to attend networking meetings was extended to non-tenure-track faculty, creating a vibrant group with both common and diverse interests and experiences.

WiSE Task Force

Following the initial period of fact-finding and investigations of successful strategies for recruitment of women faculty, analyzing data on women in science and engineering at major research universities, and examining initiatives to increase the hiring and enrollment of women, the Provost appointed a formal WiSE Task Force to formulate specific recommendations for programs supported by the WiSE gift.

The Task Force, which included both men and women and spanned disciplines, recommended a comprehensive set of programs and specific guidelines for their implementation. Since hiring to achieve gender equity as well as to maintain USC’s standard of excellence would be a long-term effort, the gift money was best served by creating an endowment, the proceeds of which would support an evolving plan. Recognizing its importance, half of the proceeds from the endowment were earmarked initially for faculty recruitment and the rest for activities that benefit undergraduate and graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, and middle school girls interested in science. The Task Force also established an important principle: WiSE does not pay for programs exclusively but rather matches and augments contributions by requesting academic units. In this way, WiSE functions as a partner in helping academic units work toward gender equity and its funds can support a large scope of programs, create new programs, and respond to emerging needs.

Organization and Structure

Operating from the Office of the Provost, the WiSE program is implemented by a Director who works closely with an Advisory Board of faculty. Together they continue to fine-tune existing programs and propose new ones. Reaching its first major milestone in 2006, the number of WiSE faculty increased from fifteen (twelve in USC Dornsife, three in Viterbi School of Engineering) to thirty-five (twenty-three in USC Dornsife and twelve in Viterbi School of Engineering). As of the 2015-2016 academic year there are fifty-two WiSE faculty members (twenty-five in USC Dornsife and twenty-seven in Viterbi School of Engineering).

The WiSE Program Director is Professor Leana Golubchik, is responsible for the implementation of the program. The WiSE Advisory Board, chaired by Professor Judith Hirsch, works closely with the WiSE Program Director on all WiSE related issues. Two committees, one in USC Dornsife (chaired by Professor Jill McNitt-Gray) and the other at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering (chaired by Associate Professor Malancha Gupta), are appointed by the WiSE Program Director to select award recipients and to make recommendations for the direction of the Program. Working to coordinate the Advisory Board, committees, and the expanding array of WiSE activities, Mallory Redel serves as the WiSE Program Manager.