When Dr. Jennifer R. Cohen was running as a molecular biologist, she often wondered why no one else in her sector looked like her.
As a black female, Cohen is not the typical face you’d see in a biochemistry lab. The sad reality is science and technology careers are still predominately assumed by white humen even though there is a large reservoir of untapped talent among women and people of color.
The reason for the gap seems to lie in a lack of resources to help talented but underrepresented students reach higher academic levels. While some colleges are currently looking to diversify, it’s often difficult for these students to get on their radar without some sort of assistance.
Cohen knew how much underrepresented talent there was out there just waiting to realize their full potential, so she joined the SMASH program.
SMASH, or Summer Math and Science Honors, is a subsection of the nonprofit organization Level the Playing Field Institute. It’s a rigorous, three-year summertime program that provides sets and resources to students who are underrepresented in STEM fields( science, technology, engineering, and math) free of charge . The courses take place at colleges, like UCLA and UC Berkeley, the hell is leading the style in these fields.
By throwing these students headfirst into an environment stocked with resources, SMASH is dedicating them all they need to totally “own” STEM .
The movement, however, is not just about bolstering science abilities. It’s about creating a pipeline into colleges that will help students launch a life seeking some of the coolest, most sought-after and most impactful STEM-related careers out there.
But they have to get in first.
Aside from helping to eliminate the barriers to a college degree and subsequent career, SMASH’s teachers are doing all they can to give their students confidence. The STEM fields aren’t precisely handing out postures to women and people of color, so they’ll need all the conviction they have to get ahead.
UCLA’s SMASH program, for example, is brimming with teachers who are women of colouring, and experts in their fields. Pre-calculus instructor Patrice Smith got her Bachelor of Science from UCLA in Mathematics/ Applied Science and specializations in Business Administration and Computing. Having role models like her likely promotes the 53% of young women who inhabit the UCLA program.
“We help them to see that they belong and that they have what it takes so there’s no question in their intellects that they can be successful, ” Cohen explains.
Having been the only female of color in the room , Cohen feels she can be especially helpful to the young women in SMASH. Her experience working in STEM shines a light on the inequality and need for change.
But, thanks to SMASH, change is happening, and its students are strolling, dissecting, coding, algorithm-solving proof.
Leilani Reyes, a first-generation college student from Fairfield, California, is analyse computer science at Stanford University and was lately a software engineer intern at Medium. She’s eternally grateful to SMASH for opening up this world of opportunity to her.
“Academically, it granted me rigor and, more importantly, subsistence from teachers and staff who empowered me to be curious and socially conscious in STEM exploration , ” writes Reyes in an email. “Professionally, it granted me resources to develop essential skills like public speaking and a link with mentors and role model who I look to for advice and inspiration.”
Michael Pearson, who attended SMASH UCLA, blossomed into one of the most accomplished computer science students, often helping others with their homework after finishing his own. He’s now pursuing a career in Cognitive and Computer Science at the University of Pennsylvania.
And Thomas Estrada, who went through SMASH UC Berkeley, was awarded the Regent and Chancellor’s Scholarship, which helped fund his undergraduate tuition there. He majored in computer science, and is now pursuing his doctorate. This summer, he landed a coveted internship with Google.
In words of overall numbers, 78% of SMASH students proclaim STEM majors as freshman and 79% of that percentage alumnu with a STEM major. That’s huge compared to the national average of STEM alumnus, simply 22%. Obviously the program is doing something right.
In the last 17 years, SMASH has helped over 500 graduates hit their academic and career goals.
The program is rapidly expanding into their own nationals organization. One of the first east coast schools they’re partnering with is the prestigious Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania. There’s no telling how far SMASH’s influence will go now.
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