Foothill College’s Science Learning Institute’s commitment to serving underrepresented groups in a variety of ways has resulted in recognition – nominated for the Inspiring Program in STEM award by INSIGHT into Diversity magazine – but that’s not what those at SLI are most proud of this year.
It’s the difference they’ve made in the lives of their students, helping them achieve their dreams.
SLI supports Foothill students in two main ways: through its Program for Readiness and Exploration in STEM (PRE-STEM) (which runs year-round but has a Summer Institute program for training) and through its internship program, SLI director Sophia Kim said.
“We thought it was important to create a sense of belonging for students who might feel like they don’t belong to STEM, so the idea of the Summer Institute – the idea of a learning community – was really related to that,” Kim said. “The second big area we wanted to work on was if you want to get a job here in Silicon Valley, you need to have connections, so it was really important to have an internship program that was really targeting students who don’t have those networks already, to give them that leg up.”
The goals of the internship program are to help students learn how to build professional connections and learn how to be assets to their workplaces, according to STEM workforce specialist Marissa Yáñez. After being the only woman of color in her doctoral program, Yáñez said she was inspired to work on bringing more diversity to the STEM workforce. Working for SLI has helped her directly see the impact she is making, the engineering faculty member said.
“Our students are doing incredibly sophisticated projects on machine learning, artificial intelligence (and more),” Yáñez said. “It’s pretty groundbreaking that we have so many students doing these high-level internships in tech and in STEM in Silicon Valley, which is notorious for being this closed door that’s impossible to penetrate. Our goal is getting these companies to realize the worth and the value that our students bring to them, and also how much they have to gain by mentoring our students.”
The program works to meet every student where they’re at, Yáñez added, and leaders have a one-on-one check-in with students at least once to get to know them and make themselves available for assistance.
“We provide technology support, so that technology piece isn’t a barrier,” Kim said. “We also have what we call ‘cohort sessions,’ so we kind of build a community of students who are in this together, and we meet with them every other week.”
Student Lily Swedlow started as a member of the PRE-STEM program but is now SLI’s social media specialist, among other roles. She said the program helped her learn how to pace herself and truly engage with the material.
“When I got the email about
PRE-STEM, it really showed that Foothill in general really tries to create that sense of community,” she said, “and it took three days of me being a part of Foothill before somebody reached out to me, which was kind of amazing. That sort of propelled me into actual success with college. Sophia and SLI really gave me a foundation to stand on, which I didn’t expect but was incredibly amazing.”
Similar to Swedlow, PRE-STEM student Jasmin Molina said the program’s collaborative atmosphere provides a strong foundation that has helped her succeed.
“I knew I was going to take pre-(calculus), but I didn’t know what it was going to look like,” Molina said. “And the fact that they had a math program where you can ask questions and see the problem and then work along with your peers was nice to see.”
By being involved with the program in multiple ways, Swedlow said she has developed a passion for the mission of SLI and has gained a holistic perspective about diversity within the tech industry. The social media specialist said she aspires to be an aerospace engineer.
“I grew up moving around a lot and was pretty much always the new kid, so I would purposely not be part of what was happening in my area,” Swedlow said. “So here, I feel like I’m contributing to something, but also that I want to be there and the people around me want to be there. We want to learn and we want to expand our minds and ourselves.”
For more information on SLI, visit foothill.edu/sli.