BE WiSE encourages young women to dream

Twelve high school girls from all over San Diego on Saturday got a lesson in how cancer research is done during the Be WiSE Young Women in Cancer Research Oncofertility Academy.

The program, conducted at the Moores UCSD Cancer Center that encourages girls to aspire to careers in science and engineering, where women are underrepresented.

Erika Senegar-Mitchell, a biology teacher at Junipero Serra High School, a teacher who coordinates study sessions for the girls, said sees her work as a continuation of the mentorship that was once shown to her.

“Some female scientists took me under her wing and mentored me and facilitated my journey through science as a young woman,” she said. “I hope they get the exposure that enables them to dream and to know what’s out there, [that] anything’s possible.”

The BE WiSE program, an acronym for Better Education for Women in Science and Engineering, selects female applicants in grades 7 and 8, and those who are accepted stay with the program until high school graduation. From October to April, the program holds a series of Saturday-morning workshops on various subjects.

La Jollan Patricia Winter started the program when she was at General Atomics, and went on to develop it while a founding member of the San Diego Science Alliance.

She has said that “when we began the program in 1999, I had no idea that a sleepover event for young women interested in science would grow and sustain the interest of more than 900 young women ages 13 to 25.”

The July 25 session was one of three sessions on the subject of oncofertility, a new field dealing with how to preserve the fertility of cancer patients. Future sessions will cover the ethics of reproduction and the science of oncofertility.

Events included sessions on imaging, atomic energy, genetics and a talk from an ovarian cancer survivor. The day ended with a “cancer jeopardy” session.

Ten San Diego high schools were represented: Granite Hills High, Pacific Ridge School, Ramona High, San Marcos High, Cathedral Catholic High, Patrick Henry High, Canyon Crest Academy, Eastlake High, San Diego Jewish Academy and Carlsbad High.

BE WiSE is partnered with a grant on oncofertility from the National Health Institute. The three research sites for the grant are Northwestern University, UCSD and Oregon University of Health Sciences.

For more information on BE WiSE, visit