Volgenau School of Engineering
George Mason University
George Mason University Mason
George Mason University

Symposium Showcases Research, Connects Minority Students across NC, VA

March 31, 2015   /   by Martha Bushong

Despite the benefits of higher starting salaries and more stable and secure jobs, underrepresented minorities—African Americans, Hispanics and Native Americans—represent just 10 percent of college graduates working in STEM occupations.

Girl points to Presentation board

The Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (LSAMP) is working diligently to address this challenge and shift this reality. As part of this initiative, George Mason University'sVolgenau School of Engineering hosted more than 100 students from colleges in North Carolina and Virginia at the North Carolina-Virginia 8th Annual LSAMP Symposium March 29-30. The symposium helps minority undergraduates connect across universities, and provides a space to share information about research being conducted and work to explore in the future.

Computer science alumnus Marcus Coates (BS '12) is a software engineer for Northrop Grumman Corporation. He thinks the conference was a great way to connect with professionals and peers.

"There is a huge emphasis on networking and resume building opportunities for those involved," he says. "The conference gave me an opportunity to stand out in the engineering school as someone who was serious about my academic pursuits."

Christian Adounvo (BS '13) majored in computer engineering with a minor in business and is currently working on an MS in the management of secure information systems from George Mason. His advice to students is to dream big and aim high, always.

"No matter how ludicrous your idea is, or what others may think of it, if you focus your energy for long enough, and apply yourself to it, you will succeed," he says.

[Students participate in the Louis Stokes Alliances for Minority Participation Symposium (LSAMP) at the Fairfax Campus. LSAMP is designed to increase the quality and quantity of students, particularly African American, Hispanic, and Native American students who are pursuing degrees and careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Photo by Alexis Glenn.]

Students participate in the Louis Stokes Alliances for Minority Participation Symposium (LSAMP) at the Fairfax Campus.

Students participate in the Louis Stokes Alliances for Minority Participation Symposium (LSAMP) at the Fairfax Campus. Photo by Alexis Glenn.

Many of the students come from computer science and engineering, but Esther Howard (BS '13) is a less traditional LSAMP alumnae. She now works at the Office of Actuaries in the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, Office of Planning and Policy Analysis. For her, exposure to STEM fields and positions beyond her specific area of study was one of the best aspects of the program.

"Hearing the perspective of peers, alumni, and professors encourages students to pursue experiences beyond their current course of study," says Howard.

Her advice to current participants is to remember who they are and where they came from, and to know where they are going.

"Structure your life and aspirations to this end and surround yourself with motivated individuals who challenge you to reach beyond your highest goal," she says.

"I have had the privilege and honor to work with many of these students at the Volgenau School as their faculty advisor," says Alok Berry, associate professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. "They are capable students who will graduate and continue to make lasting contributions to society."

LSAMP is led by the University of Virginia. In addition to Mason, it includes Virginia Commonwealth University, Virginia Tech, Saint Augustine's University, Piedmont Virginia Community College, Johnson C. Smith University, Elizabeth City State University and Bennett College.

For more details, contact Alok Berry at aberry@gmu.edu or 703-993-1606.

A version of this story by Martha Bushong appeared in Mason News on March 31, 2015.