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Keeping Women on the STEM Track
Akquaa Anye evaluates methods to keep women in STEM fields.
The three women pull their chairs together in the office. Outside in the hallway, a group of students call out to each other on their way to class. No one in the room notices; they are too intent on their topic. Notebooks and research papers fill the nearby table. One of women fires up a laptop and her fingers fly on the keys.
Their goal? Keeping women and underrepresented groups in science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields at UMD. Their proposal? Matching advanced students studying STEM fields with less experienced students. Their evaluation process? Research.
Of course it’s research. They are two scientists and an engineer.
Anne Hinderliter, professor of biophysical chemistry, Dr. Ona Egbue, assistant professor of mechanical and industrial engineering, and junior Akquaa Anye, a biochemistry major and pre-med, have a plan. “The project is called SCSE PeerUp, and we are going to match peer mentors to mentees and track their progress,” Akquaa says.
Early in 2017, when Akquaa heard there was an opportunity to help develop the SCSE PeerUp program, she rushed to get in an application for a summer Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP). She completed it with only days to spare, and she received the award.
This spring, she has begun the first step, matching the pairs. The mentors are sophomores, juniors, and seniors. Students in the program will also have faculty/staff mentors. They have all taken training on how to maintain an effective mentor-mentee relationship. Over the summer, fall, and winter, Akquaa will track progress and compare the data with students that are not in the program. “We may even take the study further than UMD; we could follow people into graduate school and their careers,” she says.
Dr. Egbue emphasizes the comprehensiveness of the study, “We want to keep women and underrepresented groups in STEM fields at UMD and make their experiences better,” she says. “By connecting these students with each other, they can have a support system and a sense of community which have been shown to improve retention.”
SCSE PeerUp promises to create a circle of support. Dr. Hinderliter believes that mentoring imparts resilience in both the mentor and mentee. "Every discussion with my own mentor, Dr. Bilin Tsai, became a lens to peer into a seemingly intractable problem so it could be solved by both of us. I hope to convey this skill to my mentee, Dr. Egbue. I can see that Dr. Egbue will do the same with her mentee, Akquaa."
As far back as Akquaa can remember, she has felt the impact of powerful women in medicine. Her grandmother, who lived in a village in Cameroon, assisted doctors in medical clinics and hospital. There are not enough medical professionals in Cameroon. Her grandmother was able to identify when simple illnesses and accidents needed more attention than a village healer could provide.
At UMD, Akquaa was drawn to the Wellness Center and the Wellness Advocate program. She saw the need to bring students from all across campus to relax together. “Students feel disconnected,” she said. “And they need to destress their minds.” Aquaa volunteered with Dori Decker on a program called Wellness Wednesdays. They offered smoothies, fun games, and discussion topics for students, and it was a success.
The Whole Person
Akquaa balances her school work with these activities and more. She has plans for a McNair science scholarship summer project at Kansas State and dreams of attending Howard University for medical school.
Akquaa cares about the interconnection of wellness and health. She has been influenced by many women. She praises her grandmother, Dori Decker, Dr. Hinderliter, and Dr. Egbue. Akquaa says, “They’ve taught me that there’s more to medicine than just being a physician.”