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Women look for better mentoring

Women at Duke find the current procedures for advising and mentoring to be lacking, according to data collected by the Steering Committee and Duke Inquiries in Gender from current students and alumni.

Women's Center Director Donna Lisker, a member of the committee, said many women found undergraduate academic advising to be too formal, and not directed to many of their concerns.

"People wanted more personal advising," said Lisker. "Some of the alumnae we interviewed said they wished someone at Duke had talked with them about how to combine career and family, because those were salient issues to them now. Others just wanted guidance in everyday life."

William Chafe, dean of the faculty of Arts and Sciences, said that while mentoring is important for all students, it could have special benefits for women undergraduates.

"One of the main findings of the focus groups done for the initiative was the importance of sustaining intellectual assertiveness and confidence among women through all four years of college," Chafe said.

Along with improved mentoring for undergraduates, the report discussed the need for a greater presence of women as leaders on campus. Lisker noted that although the University has numerous female student leaders, they are normally more represented in some areas than in others.

"You see great female leadership in sororities and community service, but if you look at the big-ticket offices--DSG president, Campus Council president--there are relatively few women there," she said.

While she emphasized that much more work needs to be done to secure high visibility positions for women on campus, she pointed to the culture of the University as potentially stifling.

"Certainly there are role models--President [Nan] Keohane being the most obvious example--but what about Duke's social culture discourages some women from putting themselves forward in these roles?" said Lisker. "That's what we're trying to figure out."

While mentoring is an issue still being discussed, a new program, outlined in the report, has been announced for undergraduate women. Named after the first dean of the Women's College, the Alice M. Baldwin Scholars program will allow students to focus on leadership skills in and out of the classroom.

"We expect the Baldwin Scholars to combine classroom education, internships, formal mentoring with female faculty and alumnae, campus leadership and a residential experience," Lisker said.

Mentoring and leadership were also prominently discussed in the graduate and professional schools section of the Women's Initiative report. Unlike their undergraduate counterparts, graduate women require more career focused mentoring.

"Mentoring is important because it's part of a student's professional development," said Jacqueline Looney, associate dean of the Graduate School. "It's just part of what students expect, that they will learn in their areas of expertise. Not only the academic or intellectual aspect, but also the networking aspect of being developed in your field and how you are connected when you go on the job market."

The report cited data that said up to 20 percent of graduate and professional school students--both men and women--within a given school did not have a faculty mentor. Looney pointed to this data as an example of the need to place a higher priority on mentoring within each school.

"I don't think anyone on this campus would disagree that mentoring is very important," she said. "We just need to think of the best way to promote it, reward it and be clear about our expectations about it being done."

Looney pointed to current examples of mentoring in the School of Nursing and the FUQUA School of Business as important starting points for greater mentoring within each school.

"We found in the study that Nursing and FUQUA consistently got really positive comments and high marks," said Looney. "I think what those schools have done really well is cultivated a culture of mentoring. Each department will have to really work hard to develop a culture of mentoring."

Karen Hauptman contributed to this story.


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