Empowering Underrepresented Scholars in STEM at the University of Arizona’s Science, Engineering, and Math Scholars Program

Counseling May 2024 PREMIUM

The Arizona Science, Engineering, and Math Scholars (ASEMS) program supports underrepresented students in STEM fields through inclusive community building, mentoring, and tailored coursework. As spring semester ends, graduating scholars reflect on their transformative experiences, while new scholars are welcomed into a supportive environment emphasizing academic success and personal growth.


It is the end of the spring semester, and a mix of emotions comes from our Arizona’s Science, Engineering, and Math Scholars (ASEMS), who come from communities underrepresented in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM). For our first-year scholars, we have warmly welcomed them into our inclusive community through success courses, mentoring, meetings with their Student Support Specialist, and intentional outreach and programming to transition and guide them through their first-year experience at the University of Arizona. These students are still gathering a sense of what the rest of their degree will look like, and we will be alongside them for the journey!


For our graduating scholars, they are wrapping up their final semester and looking forward to what is to come – graduation, a future in the industry, a gap year, or graduate school. At our ASEMS Achievement Ceremony this year, graduating scholar Miley Suarez was selected as a keynote speaker and shared a reflection on her time in the program, stating, “You showed me how to be an effective student and how to navigate academic challenges. You showed me how to ask questions, how to study, and even how to make it past the really difficult professors. But this program and the people that make it up, my mentors and my peers have all taught me so many more valuable lessons than how to be an academic. They showed me how to listen actively, how to extend kindness to others, how to be a mentor, and how to be a supportive friend and compassionate leader.” We are proud of and inspired by Miley, along with the other 61ASEMS scholars who anticipate graduation this spring and summer.


As we are wrapping up the spring semester and graduation season with our current scholars, our ASEMS staff is also switching into our recruitment season and getting to meet our newest scholars. In our outreach, we focus on promising students who are the first in their family to attend college, from low-income households, who transferred from a community college, and who are from minoritized racial/ethnic and social identities (with 55% identifying as Hispanic/Latino in AY 2023). As participants in the ASEMS program, scholars receive wrap-around services throughout their academic journey. 


Our ASEMS program mission is to foster a culture of inclusive excellence at the University of Arizona by empowering STEM students with the tools necessary to succeed while recognizing their unique backgrounds and assets. In alignment with this mission, our scholars are supported by our team, who apply culturally responsive asset-based approaches in our work supporting each scholar and the community.These aspects are brought into our professional and scholar staff team training and are intentionally incorporated into our curriculum in the classroom and in our co-curricular programming and support interventions - from bilingual orientation sessions where families are invited to our regular “Cafecito con ASEMS” socials to mingle with peers.


As a scholar of ASEMS, they become a part of the community by getting to know their Student Support Specialist and Peer Educator, who will support them throughout the year through regular outreach and meetings. In their first semester, scholars become a part of a STEM learning community. This includes our Success in STEM course which meets weekly and is facilitated by their Peer Educator and supported by their Specialist. In partnership, the scholars in this class are placed in one cohort to participate in either a chemistry or math class together. Through the Success in STEM Course, scholars are introduced to a curriculum that strengthens their academic success in STEM and allows them to begin exploring their major/career interests and how they  align with their personal goals. Having these conversations led by a peer allows scholars to engage more personally with the content. Further, this is where we establish the community and empower our scholars with a sense of belonging in STEM! One scholar shared that “the unique classes were integral to my success in STEM as I transferred; I was really lost and overwhelmed by [the] university and they helped put me on track and give me a lot of guidance going forward.”


During their second semester at the University, ASEMS scholars continue in our curriculum by engaging in our Research Readiness course, where they are invited to strengthen their STEM identity by exploring the opportunities that research has to offer in their fields. This course is facilitated by their Student Support Specialist, and it is co-facilitated by one of our ASEMS faculty fellows, who brings in a practical application of research as we address research topics in a relatable way for the scholars. The scholars are supported in identifying a research shadowing opportunity that they reflect on and present at the culmination of the course. At the conclusion of the course, an ASEMS scholar shared, “Getting a position in a lab helped me understand what goes on day to day in research. Also, being in ASEMS helped me get that position because the PI likes ASEMS students.”Our program has developed a reputation for high achieving scholars that has led to faculty requesting to work with our scholars, and this course has been the step in the door for many of them.


Throughout their engagement in the ASEMS program, scholars also have access to our program resources and professional development workshops. Offering free one-on-one tutoring and coordinating study groups, especially for upper-level courses, has been a significant support for our scholars. To complement their studies and growth, we host workshops that focus on personal growth, like financial literacy and time management, and professional development to prepare our scholars holistically. This includes industry networking and panel opportunities and graduate school preparation programs. In our 2022 assessment, we are proud that a third of our scholars moved on to graduate school, with 81% of current students agreeing that “participating in ASEMS made me more interested in attending graduate school.” Miley will be one of those scholars moving on to graduate school at the University of Arizona in the fall where she will begin her Ph.D. in Microbiology.

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