OLIVIA FOSTER, TRUMPET NEWS WRITER
Wartburg is one of 16 colleges in Iowa, Illinois and Nebraska participating in the program to increase minorities’ participation in STEM fields.
The Iowa, Illinois, and Nebraska Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation, IINspire, offers benefits of peer mentoring, leadership opportunities and networking within the STEM fields.
“Students can get a lot out of IINspire,” Dr. Leann Faidley, the campus director for IINspire at Wartburg and associate professor of engineering science, said. “The main goal is to have retention of minorities in STEM, because there are so many talented, intelligent people that might not be here otherwise.”
Increasing diversity within the fields of science, technology, and math is a large part of what IINspire is and that resonates with the students who participate in the program.
“I participate in IINspire because it’s a group where I feel like I’m no longer the minority in,” Dantiana Fernandez, a student mentor with IINspire, said. “As a group, we can talk openly about any struggles we face and we always have feedback/guidance.”
Having a space where the students can be themselves and talk openly while also growing their professional skills is important to other IINspire students.
“In STEM, it adds extra pressure when you are a minority and being able to enter a safe space and have additional resources helps overcome this,” Brandon Bloebaum, a student mentor, said. “That is the role of IINSPIRE, and I think it is essential to promote diversity in any way.”
Fernandez and Bloebaum are two of eight student mentors with IINspire. This means that they are guides for other students who are part of the program by helping them with classes, working on projects together, and giving them advice.
“The student mentors are an important part of the organization,” Faidley said. “They act as a light to help guide others through the more difficult parts of the STEM field and they are a resource, especially when things get difficult.”
The peer mentors understand that the role they have within the program is impactful to the other students involved.
“Starting in the fall, I had the opportunity to serve as a mentor for a first-year IINspire student,” Bloebaum said. “I helped him through his first semester of college and helped him find appropriate resources when necessary.”
Freshmen who are minorities in the STEM fields and are majoring in STEM-related fields are automatically part of IINspire when they come to Wartburg, whether they know it or not. It is up to them to decide whether they want to become an active participant.
“I’m not sure a lot of people even know that they are part of IINspire,” Faidley said. “I send out a bunch of emails and some people always decide to make IINspire part of their college experience by actively engaging in the program.”
For the students who are active participants in IINspire, their experience with the program has been positive.
“I want people to know that IINspire is an amazing program led by the most caring professors who will go above and beyond to help you,” said Fernandez. “IINspire is amazing and if you are a minority in STEM who hasn’t joined, I encourage you to do so.”