Women’s mentoring network with strong CSU ties receives national award

women at STEM conference

The Colorado table at the State-Federal STEM Summit, which took place in conjunction with the awards ceremony. 

The Earth Science Women’s Network, an international peer-mentoring organization for women in the geosciences, has received a national honor for its work in creating a supportive community for thousands of scientists. Two members of the network’s leadership board are at Colorado State University; scientists from University of Colorado Boulder, UNAVCO and Colorado College also lead the organization.

On June 26, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and the National Science Foundation announced the Earth Science Women’s Network as one of 41 individuals or organizations honored with presidential awards for mentoring in the sciences. The award is the “highest honor bestowed on mentors who work to expand talent in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields,” according to the award citation.

CSU leadership

Emily Fischer, CSU assistant professor of atmospheric science and a five-year board member of the Earth Science Women’s Network, accepted the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring on behalf of the organization. Melissa Burt, CSU research scientist in atmospheric science, serves as the network’s vice president. Burt is also the education and diversity manager for the Walter Scott, Jr. College of Engineering.

“The Earth Science Women’s Network has empowered and supported thousands of women across the nation, and internationally,” Burt said. “From my own experience, [the network] has provided me with an exceptional community of talented and brilliant scientists … It has also influenced many of us to take a leap and be a leader. We are using these leadership positions to promote and mentor scientists of today and welcome the scientists of tomorrow.”

Award winners received a presidential citation and $10,000 from the National Science Foundation, which manages the awards programs on behalf of the White House. Fischer and others at the Washington, D.C., ceremony participated in discussions on STEM and STEM education priorities with participants from several states.

The presidential awards for mentoring in STEM recognize the critical roles mentors play outside the traditional classroom, in the academic and professional development of the future STEM workforce, according to the NSF.

Colleagues, administrators and students nominate individuals and organizations for exemplary mentoring sustained over a minimum of five years. The annual award has been given since 1995.

Connections, collaborations

The Earth Science Women’s Network was established in 2002 by a group of six women scientists. What started as simple email exchanges transformed into an organization for establishing connections and scientific collaborations. Now, the network is a hub for connecting women across all facets of earth sciences.

“The Earth Science Women’s Network is dedicated to developing a welcoming community in the earth sciences, and providing professional development opportunities for all scientists,” Fischer said. “It is really wonderful that this organization, which harnesses the energy and vision of so many women, is being recognized in this way.”

Emily Fischer accepts presidential award for ESWN
Emily Fischer accepts the award on behalf of the Earth Science Women’s Network.

The network model has proven so successful that it has inspired other efforts. Fischer and Burt started an NSF-funded effort called PROGRESS (PROmoting Geoscience Research, Education and Success) that provides professional development and mentoring for undergraduate women in geosciences. They modeled their organization after the Earth Science Women’s Network, which primarily serves scientists at the graduate level and beyond.