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Illinois To Participate in WitsOn—Online Class for Female STEM Undergrads

Two Engineering undergraduate students at Illinois.
Two Illinois Engineering undergraduate students.

September 4, 2012

To help promote recruitment and retention of women in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics), Illinois will be participating in WitsOn (Women in Tech Share Online), an online class for female undergraduate STEM students. A joint project by Harvey Mudd College and Piazza, a course-management website, the 4–6 week class will begin on October 1, 2012.

Each week of the course, a different "lead mentor" will be video-taped answering questions student participants asked the preceding week. Also, a group of support mentors (female faculty and professionals) will provide their own insights. One of about 20 lead institutions, Illinois was chosen because many of the faculty already use Piazza to manage their courses.

To solicit participants from Illinois, I-STEM director Lizanne DeStefano, the project liaison on campus, will email instructors of science and engineering courses and tell them about WitsOn and how to nominate their students for the class. In addition, female faculty and graduate students at Illinois will have the opportunity to be support mentors.

Maria Klawe, President of Harvey Mudd College, located in Claremont, California, writes of WitsOn: "I think this is going to be a great experience for the student participants and the mentors."

Female student working on computer.
Female student works on a computer in an Illinois lab.

The Piazza website allows professors and teaching assistants to easily answer questions, manage course materials, and track student participation. In addition, it allows students to both ask and answer questions, and professors and TAs to correct errors. According to the Piazza website, "With students teaching students, conversations on Piazza can continue long after office hours are over. Piazza gives students anonymity options to encourage everyone—even shy students—to ask and answer questions. Instructor endorsements of good questions and answers let instructors push the class in the right direction."

According to Piazza founder and CEO, PLooja Sankar, "Piazza is designed to connect students, TAs, and professors so every student can get help when she needs it—even at 2AM."

Story and photographs by Elizabeth Innes, Communications Specialist, I-STEM Education Initiative
More: Undergrad, Women in STEM, 2012