New Mason summer program shows high school students the value of a STEM degree
George Mason University’s College of Science partnered with the Virginia Latino Higher Education Network (VALHEN) to offer the VALHEN Hispanic STEM Academy (VHSA) at its Fairfax Campus in the last week of July 2023.
Designed for rising Virginia high school sophomores and juniors from Hispanic/Latine and other underserved communities, the program provided 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 toured Mason’s cutting-edge laboratories and facilities and learned 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,” said College of Science Dean Fernando Miralles-Wilhelm. “This program provided participants access to the fastest growing STEM careers and academic pathways to get them there.”
This year, the academy focused on the topic of global sustainability. Participants worked with VHSA Guides, Mason undergraduate student mentors, and fellow high school students on group research projects addressing real-world scientific problems such as hunger, access to clean water, pollution, and climate solutions.
The “Mason VHSA Big Ideas Challenge” encouraged students to work collaboratively to tackle today’s most critical global sustainability challenges.
“The students presented some truly innovative solutions to very complex issues,” said Kerin Hilker-Balkissoon, director of educational and career pathways in the College of Science. “Hopefully this experience fuels their passion for STEM, while also helping them understand that their diversity of ideas, perspectives, and experiences are desperately needed in our global STEM community.”
Other sessions guided students through the college process to better know what to expect as a future student. Presentations also fostered connections to a wide range of resources, scholarships, and both academic and professional networks.
“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,” Hilker-Balkissoon said.