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STEM Scholar Founding Director Zoranna Jones, Ph.D.

TCU has a lot of initiatives for diversity, equity and inclusion, and seeing those programs coming to fruition makes me proud.

You started the STEM Scholar program, which provides full scholarships for students from underrepresented groups studying science, technology, engineering or mathematics. How does one apply for the scholarship?

Incoming freshmen must meet scholarship criteria for the university. They also have to choose one of TCU’s selective STEM majors. Most of the recipients are currently in science and engineering and education, but we’re going to expand into business information systems and movement science. The students are preferably from groups underrepresented in STEM fields: students of color, first-generation students.

How did you start the program, how do you guide students, and why is it important?

When I was doing research for my dissertation, I was looking at existing STEM support systems at other institutions. Many of those had been in existence for over 25 years and had successful results. There’s a successful model out there, and TCU wants to increase diversity and improve academic rigor. So it made sense.

There are a lot of students who are interested in STEM, but those courses are hard. If someone takes that first class and it doesn’t go as well as they want, they change majors. But we can stop them, get them in the door and say, “This is going to be hard, but here are some tools to prepare you.” If they stumble, we can be that encouraging person who says, “OK, let’s try again.”

This program is essentially created to do two things. One: provide academic support, so that’s academic advising, tutoring, mentorship. Two: the enrichment part. We are providing opportunities to go study abroad, opportunities for networking with industry professionals, opportunities for internships.

Why do you think STEM is so important, especially for underrepresented groups?

Think about what someone can do with science: research, working for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, being an entrepreneur, being a medical doctor. There are so many opportunities. The technology is endless: advancing computers, creating new software, even if it’s related to medicine. Now we have computers that help with operations. Who creates those?

If you’re a first-generation college student, and you’re coming from a nonprivileged background, being able to come into a place like TCU and get a degree in engineering and then go work for Lockheed or BNSF can literally be life-changing for you and your family.

What advice would you give to an incoming student thinking about pursuing STEM?

If they have a true interest, passion and drive to do it, then stick with it. It’s always hard for everybody in the beginning. Many departments, including the Harris Academic Resource Center, offer free tutoring. It’s not one of those things where they have to figure out everything on their own.

— Zach Martino

Excerpt from interview in TCU Magazine Spring 2019