ACCESS receives $240,000 grant
Traditionally, men have been dominant in studying the sciences and pursuing careers associated with that field. ACCESS is a program for women in science and mathematics at the U that has been aiming to break those traditions since 1991. The program received a $240,000 grant from Chevron Corp. for recruiting more underrepresented individuals on Wednesday.
Hugo Rossi, former dean of the College of Science and founder of the ACCESS program, spoke at the award ceremony and emphasized the reasons behind the program’s beginning and a look at its future progression.
“In order to maintain a workforce of well-trained scientists and engineers, it is essential to drastically increase the participation in these fields from underrepresented groups,” he said.
ACCESS began with a focus on women, but now it is striving to reach out to the community and build up minority numbers from all underrepresented groups.
“[Underrepresented students] probably don’t know they could get support,” said Byron Russell, a representative from Chevron Corp. “They go to those classes and think, ‘It’s not for me.’ ”
His company wants that to change, which is why it partnered with ACCESS.
One of ACCESS’s main goals is to provide a peer cohort that women can rely on for their entire university career, said Rosemary Gray, director of the program.
Right after the girls graduate from high school, they come to the U and participate in a seven-week summer camp. They take classes in each of the four departments in the College of Science. That way, they have a chance to meet girls with similar interests before the semester starts so they can continue those relationships as they take classes with them.
Andrea Baxter, a freshman in health promotion and education, is a current ACCESS student and said she loved being able to arrive at campus with existing connections.
“It gives you someone to sit with in your class,” Baxter said. “You can study and do homework with them.”
For many ACCESS alumni, those relationships were the best part of the program.
“It wasn’t until I started the ACCESS program, surrounded by 20 other brilliant, creative and intelligent women, that I actually felt comfortable and supported in pursuing the sciences,” said Judy Vu, a former ACCESS student who is currently a research specialist in the U Hospital’s Department of Internal Medicine.
As the concluding speaker, Vu said the skills she learned about basic science research and the connections she made helped her get to where she is now.
ACCESS has continually received administrative support, even when funding was a little dicey, Rossi said. The program takes a lot to run, and most of it comes from the College of Science. Chevron Corp.’s grant is one of the biggest the program has ever received. The company has been involved with ACCESS for several years now, occasionally giving smaller donations, Gray said.
The money goes to the students for their $3,500 scholarship and instructors for the summer program. With this recent grant, ACCESS will work with organizations such as the Utah Office of Multicultural Affairs to do community outreach to women of ethnicity, said Claudia Nakano, director of the office.
The program continues to grow. Three years ago, ACCESS doubled its numbers from 21 to 42 girls because of efforts from current dean of the College of Science Pierre Sokolsky, Gray said.
Part of the scholarship money the women receive serves as a stipend for the required research they do during Spring Semester of their freshman year. That’s where Vu and all former ACCESS students receive their hands-on experiences and connections with professors.
“It’s important to give, I think, young women the opportunity to have hands-on experiences with amazing equipment,” said U President David Pershing.
Hillary Hansen, a sophomore in biology, worked with the Huntsman Cancer Institute last year for her research project. She appreciates the networking with other students and professors that takes place, even after students complete the program.
Even though women are becoming more represented in science, as the Department of Chemistry just hired a number of women faculty, the disparity is still there, Gray said.
Adoula Biar, a sophomore at West High School, attended because she is interested in being a part of ACCESS in the future. She said she has noticed the stigma against women going into science but wants to “prove that girls can be doctors as well.”
Like the networking that goes on with ACCESS, Wednesday’s event connected students, professors and community members around a common goal of supporting science education for everyone.
Before handing over the check, Mark Sullivan, refinery manager for Chevron Corp., said their company places a huge emphasis on diversity. The word, however, is hard to define.
“It’s really people with different thought processes and backgrounds and making sure that they can fully contribute to the business,” he said. “I’m glad that this grant, this $240,000, will help reach out to the less represented and less opportunistic folks and that we can go out and find some more students to come and join the ranks.”
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