Reflection on the Access Network by Jordyn Mascarenas-Wells

My name is Jordyn Mascarenas-Wells and I am a rising third year undergraduate student majoring in Physics and Mathematics at the University of Oregon. I am originally from Rio Rancho, New Mexico and discovered my passion for Physics during my senior year of high school when I took my first Physics course and joined the Science Olympiad Team. Prior to the start of my freshman year of college, I was admitted into the North Star Project Summer Program along with six other incoming freshman interested in majoring in a STEM field. We were housed together in a UO Residence Hall for two weeks prior to the start of our first fall term and participated in interactive and engaging mini-courses in physics, math, problem solving, and computer programming, taught by various graduate students in the Physics department. We were integrated into the Physical Sciences community through various group activities such as lunch with professors,  museum visits, a weekend visit to the Pine Mountain Observatory, local hiking trips, game nights and study halls.

Coming into college, I was beyond excited to start a new chapter; to make new friends, experience new things, and learn more about Physics and life in general. I anticipated having to adjust to the influx of homework on top of the challenges of trying to have a social life and living alone for the first time. I didn’t anticipate having to navigate through feelings of inferiority and solitude as an hispanic woman in Physics. Very early on, I became aware through firsthand experience as to why the retention problem with minority groups in STEM fields exists. It’s difficult to view yourself as part of a community composed primarily of people who are nothing like you. I felt like an outsider and I began to put tremendous pressure on myself to well on assignment and tests in order to counteract these feelings, which only made learning and succeeding that much more difficult.

I was invited to attend the 2017 Access Network Assembly at Rochester Institute of Technology during the spring term of my freshman year. At that time, I wasn’t aware that North Star was part of a larger network of nine university-based programs co-working with graduate and undergraduate students across the country towards a vision of a more diverse, equitable, inclusive, and accessible STEM community. I had never experienced being a part of such a large group of conscientious, motivated and passionate individuals. This invigorating experience gave me hope the future of STEM as well as my place within it. The one workshop from that assembly that particularly stood out to me discussed Imposter Syndrome. During the workshop, the facilitators asked all of the workshop attendees to raise their hand if they had ever doubted their accomplishments or feared being exposed as a “fraud” in their field.  Every single hand in the room shot up. It was in that moment that I realized I wasn’t alone in feeling like I didn’t belong; I wasn’t alone in feeling like I wasn’t good enough to be in my field. Every single person in that room struggled with feeling like an outsider and that was precisely why each and every individual determined to fight for inclusion and change. Having that sense of belonging and community with the others in that room made me feel like I could take on the world. Nothing that was going to stop me from studying the thing that I loved or from working towards a more welcoming environment within STEM for other underrepresented individuals.

I left the 2017 Access Assembly energized and excited to make the Physics community at University of Oregon a more inclusive and supportive place with the information and support I had received. I began my work through my role as a Society of Physics Students Outreach Coordinator and North Star Undergraduate Leader. I helped to plan the North Star Summer Program for 15 incoming STEM students from underrepresented backgrounds and helped to plan various outreach events at risk elementary schools around  Eugene, Oregon. I also organized the North Star Lecture Series in which undergraduates are given an opportunity to learn about the awesome research going on at the University of Oregon and discuss that research with the professors conducting it. Many students from minority groups are unaware or uncomfortable approaching professors about research on their own, so these talks serve as a great resource to give such students the competitive edge gained through research experience. I also joined The Associated Students for Undergraduate Research and Engagement(ASURE) and accepted the role of Access Network Assembly Fellow. As a member of ASURE, I took the role of Diversity and Inclusion Student Ambassador, working to introduce underrepresented students to research and providing them with the necessary resources to get involved. As an Access Assembly Fellow, I worked with members from the nine other sites to plan the 2018 Access Assembly, organizing workshops on Summer Programs, Women in Stem, and various other team building activities. I also served as member of the  Ombuds Team which gave Assembly Attendees a confidential resource in the case of conflict or complaint and helped to insure all participant’s voices were being heard.

The Access Network has presented both myself and the University of Oregon North Star Project with invaluable resources and opportunities to achieve our mission of working towards a more equitable and inclusive STEM community. I have gained confidence and experience through the professional development opportunities afforded to me by the organization and have gone on to share the Access Network’s goals with the other groups I have become a part of. I have also developed friendships and support networks with the other site members that have made me feel more at home within my field. I hope to continue promoting and working towards the vision of the Access Network and am extremely grateful to be a part of such an indispensable and impactful organization.

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