For graduate students at the University of California, Berkeley (UCB), success in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) can be found in classmates, classrooms, laboratories and instructors. And, with a grant from the PPG Foundation, success for first-year graduate students also starts through a new mentorship program, STEM*FYI (First-Year Initiative).
A support network that goes beyond the classroom
With a focus on students in underrepresented minorities, women and first-generation college goers, the program was created to assist with the students’ transition to graduate-level education. By pairing advanced student mentors with first-year grad students, the STEM*FYI program creates a support network that goes beyond the classroom.
“My mentor is very approachable and we can relate both academically and personally, based on many shared experiences pursuing a degree in a STEM field as first-generation, underrepresented students,” said Zoila Alvarez, first-year Ph.D., microbiology, and participant in STEM*FYI. “My mentor has helped me make crucial decisions in my first year that I think will positively impact my career as a graduate student.”
A growing alliance of STEM scholars
Following the program’s pilot launch in the 2018-19 school year, STEM*FYI is now a growing alliance for underrepresented STEM scholars. It serves as a community for student mentors and mentees to meet regularly and share advice and strategies for success.
“The impactful network that’s created by this program goes far beyond a typical mentor/mentee relationship,” said Matthew DiTucci, PPG research chemist, and former Ph.D. student from UC Berkeley. “It’s a community and resource for students who may feel overwhelmed or isolated in their departments, and as a result may fall behind in their programs. It’s a solid place to unite UC Berkeley’s scientific community to share experiences and manage the transition from undergraduate to graduate studies.”
To mark the second year of the program, the PPG Foundation continues to support the program and expanded its funding to provide stipends to students traveling to industry-related conferences. STEM*FYI mentees also have access to PPG employees who are available by phone to provide guidance on the students’ future transition from academia to their industry careers. In future years, there is interest and potential to expand the program in order to impact students at 10 University of California campuses.