More COVID ruminations, undergraduate Board members, Dean Lach message
More COVID ruminations, undergraduate Board members, Dean Lach message
WiE Newsletter - June 2020 - ISSUE 8
Dr. Rachelle Heller

Front and Center 

News from the Director

Amazing – I can use the same opening sentence as the May Newsletter!  It does feel like Groundhog Day, every day.

Greetings from my home to yours as we enter a new month mainly still staying at home due to the coronavirus pandemic. SEAS has been busy and so has the Center for Women in Engineering.

If you didn't ‘catch’ any of the graduation celebrations, it's not too late. You can see the video of the SEAS undergraduate and SEAS graduate celebrations. One feature that I, for one, hope they continue in graduation celebrations when we are back to in-person events is the inclusion of the student image and biography as we call their name.
Shirali Nigam, BSc, Biomedial Engineering

Speaking of graduating, we celebrate the graduation of WiE Advisory Board member, undergraduate Shirali Nigam. Congratulations! 

Since we are on the subject of student membership on the Advisory Board, please join me in welcoming to the WiE Internal Advisory Board Alyssa Ilaria. Alyssa is an undergraduate, class of 2022, studying computer science. Alyssa is a member of the SEASSPAN freshmen mentoring program and Women in Computer Science (WiCS). Alyssa enjoys doing graphic design in her free time, and last summer worked at Eli Lilly & Company doing web development for their clinical research database.
Alyssa Ilaria, incoming WiE Advisory Board undergraduate member
Our mentoring program is in its final stages of development for a start-up group of mentors and mentees. Thank you to the many of you who indicated you are willing and able to be a mentor. We are putting the finishing touches on our mentor training sessions and will launch the mentor/mentee relationships by mid-June. It is not too late for you to let us know you would be interested in participating as a mentor or mentee. You can access the form below.
The newsletter was finished and ready to go, but it is important to share a short note about our response to racism and injustice that are plaguing our country. Dean Lach sent this note to the SEAS community and I want to be sure that you saw at least part of his message:
To our entire community, and especially to our students, staff, and faculty of color, I write to acknowledge and condemn the death of George Floyd and to emphasize the commitment of SEAS to create an authentically inclusive and respectful environment for all. In short, we can – and must – do better; not just with our intentions but with our actions.
In the coming weeks, I will be working with the GW Office for Diversity, Equity, and Community Engagement to facilitate dialogue within the SEAS community. I want to hear everyone’s ideas about specific steps and concrete actions we can take to not just do better in SEAS but to be leaders for equity, inclusion, and justice in our communities and throughout society.
Even within the context of our physical distancing requirements, it is so important that we care for ourselves and support each other. There are available resources linked in the messages from the Office for Diversity, Equity, and Community Engagement and the GW Student Association, and do not hesitate to contact me directly with any ideas or concerns you may have.
Stay physically distant and socially connected and wash your hands.

Shelly Heller
WiE Center Director
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Contract tracing image

Two Ways to "Save" Your Summer Work Plans

I know many of you have had your summer plans uprooted and are wondering what to do. Here are two ideas to ‘save’ the summer that didn’t provide the internship or job opportunity you imagined.

OPTION 1: Contact Tracers

While we are NOT promoting any specific pathway, there are many jobs available as contact tracers all over the country. 

What is a contact tracer? Contact tracing has been used for centuries to help track down sources of infectious disease and help prevent spread. In the 1800s, contact tracing led to the discovery that a London outbreak of cholera could be sourced to a single contaminated water pump. 

What are the qualifications required to be a contact tracer? According to one posting, applicants are required to have a high school diploma or equivalent and the ability to speak, read and write in English. Critical thinking and good judgment are required and the ability to speak two or more languages is a plus. State and County requirements may vary a bit, some may ask for science and/or some medical experience, most do not. 

You do need training and there are many FREE training programs. One of the most respected is the course from Johns Hopkins University. The course is free, takes about 5 hours and is a requirement before you can become a contact tracer.  But there are many others to check into.

How to find a job as a contact tracer? Search your local government - County or State. A job site such as and a search for "contact tracer" and your location is one possible way. This link retrieved contact tracing jobs in the DC area: 

Good luck and thanks for your service in the time of coronavirus.

OPTION 2: Improve Your
Professional Resume This Summer

If your Summer internship or other plans have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, consider participating in the RePicture STEM Summer Resume Builder Program. is a virtual community where people can learn about engineering and STEM projects helping people across the world. This RePicture STEM Summer Resume Builder Program involves researching projects in your field of interest and posting detailed write-ups about them on the RePicture website. This information will be available for the world to see and will be used by high school and university students nationwide to better understand STEM careers. You can also share your story about your journey into STEM, including class projects and STEM-related activities.

Your participation will help you build your resume during this unique time, by giving you an opportunity to showcase your Summer accomplishments and demonstrate the qualities that employers are looking for in a great employee: proactive, self-motivated and goal-oriented. You can include a link to your RePicture work on your resume or cover letter to showcase your soft skills, which is a priority for many employers. You will also gain valuable knowledge about career opportunities in your technical specialty.  

Throughout the summer, RePicture will present awards for outstanding write-ups. There will also be a leaderboard, where you can compete with other STEM students. The top percentile of the leaderboard will be recognized for their accomplishments.  

If you are interested in joining the RePicture STEM Summer Resume Builder Program please email You will then be invited to one of the short orientation sessions that will be held throughout the summer.

Note, if you are a STEM professional who is willing to be interviewed by a student about one of your STEM projects, please also email us at

Let’s make the most of the COVID-19 disruption this summer.  Participate in the RePicture STEM Summer Resume Builder Program and show future employers you didn't let a pandemic derail your ambitions.  

What We Are Reading

The topic of the COVID virus is permeating my reading list now. The most disconcerting are reports and articles about the impact of the virus on the productivity of women researchers.
One article notes that the percentage of papers submitted to research journals has dropped by anywhere from 7% to 11% for women (usually as first authors), as compared to BC (remember, that’s my shorthand for Before the Coronavirus). And, it is even more troubling when journals are reporting an uptick in submissions.
As you may know, I am the editor of the Elsevier journal: Computers & Education. Our paper flow has increased from 40 or so papers a week to at least 50 and some weeks as many as 60 new papers submitted. Interestingly, we are starting to see submissions that report on the COVID situation, though it is too soon for definitive research on the topic as relates to computers and education. One of the best articles on this subject I have found so far is from a daily feed from the newsletter. 
In general, as noted in the downloadable report, The Researcher Journey through the Gender Lens, while the participation of women in research is increasing overall, inequality remains across geographies and subject areas in terms of publication outputs, citations, awarded grants and collaborations.

On another note, I also recommend checking out some research on boredom. Yes, boredom. Erica Westgate, professor at the University of Florida, has some very interesting work and it turns our that this pandemic is giving her the golden opportunity to study boredom in less artificial settings. Her work raises two interesting issues to me. One is about boredom. While none of us is bored (!), she reported one study whose findings will not surprise you - she had subjects receive an electric shock as part of an experiment. She then offered them an opportunity to opt out of future shocks by sitting quietly - doing nothing for 15 minutes. 25% of the female subjects self shocked within that time frame (as an escape from boredom, Dr Westgate suggests), while 2/3 of the male subjects opted for a shock in the same time period!    

The second thought is about using the pandemic to access research we might not be able to in the BC world. Studies abound on researchers studying whale noise (now that the oceans are quiet without cruise ships), or cities that are less polluted, or (as mentioned before) boredom! So, while some avenues to research are cut off as folk do not have access to their labs, other doors are literally opening!

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