AWARES Transforms and Perseveres in 6th year

April 8, 2021
Mentors and students tune in for the annual Sexual harassment in the Workplace panel

Amid rapidly changing plans a year ago involving moving scheduled in-person meetings quickly online, one question remained in the back of Dr. Gönül Kaletunç’s mind, what would the fall look like? It was a question that many faculty, staff, and students at The Ohio State University wondered as virtual instruction and interactions took hold amid the pandemic. But for Kaletunc, who not only taught as a faculty member in the Department of Food, Agricultural and Biological Engineering, the transition left questions of what would happen with the AWARES program. 

AWARES or the Aspiration for Womens Advancement and Retention in Engineering and Science program, was founded in 2015 by Kaletunc. The program aims to increase career retention for women in engineering and sciences by equipping students with social skills and mentorship in their respective field. 

For a program rooted in community facilitated by multiple classroom-sized cohorts of students and recurring one-on-one mentorship meetings, how would it look if the whole program was virtual? This question led Kaletunc to reduce the size of AWARES, taking the program from its largest year of participation to numbers echoing the program’s 1st year. 

Beyond its reduced size, the hallmarks of the AWARES program remain mostly the same. Students have cohort meetings and mentor meetings via Zoom and still follow a similar program structure as years past. One benefit of the virtual setting is participation from mentors from beyond Columbus, OH. Four of the 2021 mentors work out of state, and one works in Cincinnati, allowing for participation beyond a typical year. In addition, students were also able to log in remotely from their homes across the country. 

Sexual Harassment in the Workplace remains a signature discussion

For four years, AWARES has held a panel discussion on sexual harassment in the workplace. It’s a discussion that attacks this issue plaguing neighborhoods, schools, and work environments from legal, academic, and HR perspectives. 

Camille Hébert, the Carter C. Kissel Professor of Law at the Moritz College of Law, and Yvette Hunsicker, vice president of the Office of Inclusion and Diversity and Human Resources at Honda North America Inc. returned as panel members from previous years. They were joined by Molly Peirano, interim Title IX and Clery Act coordinator at Ohio State and Director of Education & Engagement in the Office of Institutional Equity. 

Attendees for the panel discussion were also among the first at Ohio State to virtually meet Dr. Ayanna Howard, Dean of the College of Engineering, who joined the panel even before her first official day as dean. In a recent interview on The View, Howard spoke of the importance of retaining women in STEM fields and degrees by creating role models, mentorship, and community, aspects AWARES addresses.