The impact of a social network of peers on academic achievement and dropout rates in minorities is a well- studied subject (1). While no formal study of this kind has been carried out in South Africa, generally, findings internationally agree that the less isolated minority students are, the more likely they are to succeed individually, and as a group (2). Social networks cannot however be imposed, they need to be stimulated and allowed to emerge in the university environment.
Women are in minority in STEM fields from as early as school. We lose many young women during their undergraduate STEM studies for several reasons. For many, the obstacles they encounter are similar, and having an opportunity to share experiences often helps overcome those.
For many years, informal lunches have been organised as interventions for women in science, when funding is available. The South African Institute of Physics (3) has sponsored such lunches for women in physics, to generally positive feedback from participants. Being informal and involving small grants, the impact of such events has not necessarily been fully measured yet. When feedback is collected, however, it seems to indicate that the effect of such events could be transformative for many individual young women studying science.
Following a very successful 2018 Women in Physics lunch sponsored by the South African Institute of Physics, and the successful lunch of the UWC Women in Computer Science sponsored by Google and UWC Student Development Office in 2017, the Science Faculty of UWC took it upon itself to organise Women in Science lunches in 2019. The ambition was to reach 1st and 2nd year female undergraduate in all scientific fields.
We collected feedback on the students’ impressions of what it means to be a woman in science and on their specific UWC experience. The feedback on the event was overwhelmingly positive and the UWC experience was also positive. The challenges remain numerous however and we invite you to read the report we wrote after these events.
- R M. Bond, V Chykina, J J Jones (2017). Social network effects on academic achievement. The Social Science Journal, 54(4), 438-449. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.soscij.2017.06.001
- For example: Gloria, A. M., & Robinson Kurpius, S. E. (2001). Influences of self-beliefs, social support, and comfort in the university environment on the academic nonpersistence decisions of American Indian undergraduates. Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology, 7(1), 88-102.