Rutgers dorm a calm site for female students

November 13, 1990|By Patricia Meisol

NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. -- In a spacious residence hall, its arching windows and airy spaces designed to give a calming, serene feeling, the trustees of the state university here are trying to grow women scientists.

The incubator-like setting at Douglass College, a division of Rutgers University, is believed to be the first dormitory in the country exclusively dedicated to women majoring in math, science or engineering.

Rutgers trustees invested $865,000 in the project, mostly to build an addition to an existing residence hall. It houses computer labs, a library stocked with science journals, and a large living room for seminars, peer study and counseling. Graduate assistants run 15 study groups day and night during the week.

"The theme is women supporting women," said Veta Pierce, director of the hall.

Douglass, a historically all-female division of Rutgers and, with 3,300 students, the largest college of its kind in the country, has long experimented with special-interest dorms in the humanities.

It has eight language houses and a special dorm for music students. The idea of a science dorm for women took hold as the campus sought ways to attract more women to science.

Residents say the setting encourages them to be more competitive with each other, something they say may be more of a routine for male students.

"It is so hard to stick it out," said Robin O'Brien, 25, who returned to college for an advanced degree in computer science.

Freshman Shari Levine, a biochemistry major, said the special hall won't make a difference in whether she stays in science.

But for the first time, she says, she has met other people who experienced the same "nerd" stereotyping she had in high school. "It's a good support group," she said.

"A lot of people think we're kind of spoiled," says Christina Poggioli, 21, a senior who is a mathematics major and one of the first occupants. But Ms. Poggioli said she has never had a female professor and finds working with other women very supportive. "When I find myself not wanting to work, I just look around me," she said.

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