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USM’s STEM Mentoring and Equity for Women Grants Awarded to Faculty

Thu, 05/19/2022 - 02:28pm | By: Ivonne Kawas

Photos of the four womenThe STEM Mentoring and Equity for Women (SMEW) program at The University of Southern Mississippi (USM) has selected recipients for its inaugural grant awards. The program is an initiative of the College of Arts and Sciences established as a commitment to play a major role in systematic transformation for a more diverse, equitable and inclusive industry.

The grant recipients include: Dr. Alyson Brink, assistant professor in the School of Biological, Environmental, and Earth Sciences; Dr. Sarah Lee, director and professor in the School of Computer Sciences and Computer Engineering (CSCE); Dr. Kristina Mojica, assistant professor in the School of Ocean Science and Engineering; and Dr. Julie Pigza, assistant professor in the School of Mathematics and Natural Sciences.

“The SMEW program at Southern Miss is bringing together a community of scholars and educators in our college who are committed to furthering STEM fields while exemplifying the values of excellence, equity, diversity and inclusion,” said Dr. Janet Donaldson, associate dean for research and graduate education at USM.

“The grants awarded support projects that focus on breaking down barriers for those excluded or marginalized based on diverse demographics or any aspect of their personal identity that has been a source of bias in STEM,” she added.

Dr. Brink plans on starting a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion initiative called “Recruit, Retain, Train” that is geared towards women and BIPOC within or interested in the geology program at USM.

“I want to be part of the change that needs to happen,” said Dr. Brink. “I know that I can help by mentoring, advising, supporting, and helping to prepare and train women not only in the field of paleontology, but geology in general…As these women go into the workforce or to graduate school, I am proud that I had a small part in helping them be successful.”

Dr. Lee plans on hosting the Payne Women in Computing Science Bridge, a three-day program for 20 cis- and transgender women who are incoming computing major freshmen. Participants will hear from female industry leaders and on-campus employees while receiving a near-peer mentor for their first year of college.

 “This will support our aforementioned goal to establish the School of CSCE as the computing program in the state of Mississippi know for providing a safe, welcoming, and engaging environment for all persons. By continuing to amplify our work such as this summer bridge, we will be recognized as a leader in broadening participation in computing in the state,” said Dr. Lee.

Dr. Mojica aims to isolate host-virus systems from the marine environment to further understanding on how lytic virus infection of microbial hosts influence marine biogeochemical cycles. This project will also allow for two undergraduate students at USM to gain training in microbiology techniques and gain valuable research experience to help further their academic and employment success and opportunities.

Dr. Pigza seeks to acquire WebMO, a cloud-based program that will interface with the existing NSF-supported high-performance computing cluster at USM. This interface will be available to any USM student, staff, or faculty member, and implementation will augment learning beyond the traditional approach to provide students with an authentic research-type experience and the chance to develop critical thinking skills.