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Mason’s College of Science offers first VALHEN Hispanic STEM Academy

Hispanic STEM Academy

This summer, George Mason University’s College of Science is partnering with the Virginia Latino Higher Education Network (VALHEN) to proudly offer the VALHEN Hispanic STEM Academy (VHSA) at its Fairfax, VA campus.

Designed for rising Virginia high school sophomores and juniors from Hispanic/Latine and other underserved communities, the program will provide the opportunity for 48 participants to engage in a series of interactive and hands-on sessions across a range of STEM disciplines. During the three-day, two-night residential program, these potential future scientists will also tour Mason’s cutting-edge labs and facilities and learn from faculty and students about the forward-thinking research currently underway.

“We are thrilled to partner with VALHEN to show high school students from diverse backgrounds the potential of a STEM degree,” explained College of Science Dean Fernando Miralles-Wilhelm. “This program will give participants access to the fastest growing STEM careers and academic pathways to get them there.”

This year’s academy focus is Global Sustainability. Participants will work with VHSA Guides and fellow students on group research projects addressing real-world scientific problems such as hunger, access to clean water, pollution, and climate change. The program will also guide students through the college process so they know what to expect as a future STEM student, and connect them to a wide range of resources, scholarships, and both academic and professional networks.

According to Kerin Hilker-Balkissoon, Mason Science Director of Educational and Career Pathways, “research shows that those from communities or identities underrepresented in STEM fields are less likely to pursue STEM majors in college and those who do declare a STEM major when entering college are more likely to leave STEM than the general student population.”

“Many students suffer from imposter syndrome,” she explained, “and the expense of a science degree and the time management skills needed to balance extra lab sessions make STEM education more challenging overall.”  

Although this year’s VHSA enrollment quickly filled, interested parties can still request additional information to learn about resources and future programs. In addition, individuals and corporations can reach out to learn how they can support similar impactful Mason Science STEM outreach efforts. Contact Kerin Hilker-Balkissoon at

My main hope for the VALHEN Hispanic STEM Academy at Mason is that our participants will leave with the firm belief that they belong in STEM, and that their ideas, perspectives, and contributions are desperately needed as we face highly complex, global challenges,” said Hilker-Balkissoon.

Thank you to the faculty, peer guides, and the College of Science team for devoting time and effort to this program. Support from Virginia 529 to VALHEN also helps make this program possible.