UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — For the first time, the Penn State College of Earth and Mineral Sciences has Millennium Scholars in all class levels — from graduating seniors to first-year students. Here’s a look at a handful of the college's more than two dozen scholars as they begin making an impact on improving diversity in STEM fields.
Millennium Scholars pull from program, each other to grow in STEM
College of Earth and Mineral Sciences spotlighting program to improve diversity ahead of Giving Tuesday campaign
Ana De La Fuente Duran
De La Fuente Duran, EMS’ first Millennium Scholar, is a senior majoring in materials science and engineering (MatSE). Her research, which she conducted through the J.A. Robinson Research Group, focuses on using two-dimensional materials for optoelectronic applications.
“This research is incredibly relevant right now,” De La Fuente Duran said. “Making sure renewable energy sources are viable and commercially attractive to bigger companies really depends on efficiency. For me, it’s important and that drives me to continue this research.”
She is currently applying to doctoral programs at five universities and said her undergraduate research experiences, which began during her first semester at Penn State, and opportunities given to her as a Millennium Scholar, give her confidence she’ll succeed.
In research settings, she notices she’s often the only female Hispanic in the room. That’s an area she also hopes to change as she advances in her career and others see her rising through the ranks.
Sometimes, however, big changes can come from seemingly small things.
Like the time her mother visited her when she was completing research at Stanford University though a summer research program. She took home a T-shirt that she mailed to De La Fuente Duran’s cousin in Mexico.
“My cousin wears that shirt a lot,” De La Fuente Duran said. “It’s cool to know that my cousin has someone to look up to who is an immigrant, a scientist and a female at a top-tier research institution.”
Moses said the program provides the skills and surrounds scholars in an environment that fosters success. The junior MatSE major said the summer bridge program — which prepares incoming Millennium Scholars for college — gives the tools they need to succeed.
Early at Penn State, Moses relied on friends he met through the bridge program to push him to do his best. Now that he’s established, he’s helping newer scholars do the same. The camaraderie — where like-minded, diverse students are pursuing the same goals — helps students stay on the right path.
It’s a trajectory that wasn’t always obvious for Moses, who is the first member of his biological family to go to college. But as he embraced research his first year at Penn State, his plans for a doctorate solidified. He now works with the Susan Trolier-McKinstry Research Group on piezoelectric materials used for energy harvesting and electronics.
“Research is so worth it,” Moses said. “Because you get to actually be a part of developing your field and moving science forward, which I think is really cool.”
Santamaria, a sophomore double majoring in earth science and policy and in women’s studies, wants to establish her footing as a scientist so that she can more effectively communicate its importance to policy leaders.
Her family is from Nicaragua and has seen firsthand the dangers of when policy decisions aren’t driven by science. She sought out Penn State because of its expertise in science communication, and the Millennium Scholars Program provided the financial means of getting here. She’s hoping the program will help her earn a doctorate in environmental systems engineering.
She finds inspiration in other pioneers who came before her and she’s passionate about improving diversity in STEM fields because she said diverse problems require diverse solutions.
“The people I met influenced me and where I want to go,” Santamaria said. “I was really inspired by all the people I’ve met who reached the top in their field and I think, if they can do it, I can do it, too.”
Colón became interested in meteorology early in life because while growing up in Puerto Rico she saw firsthand how understanding the weather could have tremendous impact on people’s lives. Hurricane Maria, a Category 5 hurricane that devastated Puerto Rico in 2017, solidified her career plans.
She was lucky in that she attended a STEM-focused school and even interned for one of Puerto Rico’s top meteorologists, Ada Monzón.
She said she feels blessed for this opportunity because not many Puerto Ricans get to come to the U.S. to pursue an education.
Colón wants to earn an advanced degree in meteorology and atmospheric science so that she can make communities like hers safer. She said the Millennium Scholars Program means she can have a support system as she pursues a degree at Penn State, a top-tier research university, before returning to better her community.
“I want to work for Puerto Rico,” Colón said. “It’s my home. I don't see myself anywhere else.”
In high school, Mir was fortunate to be exposed to science and engineering, even petroleum and natural gas engineering, where he found his passion.
The first-year student likes how the program puts students on a path to an advanced degree but allows for the flexibility to chart their own course, whether it be in industry or academia. He also likes how the program pairs new scholars with peers in similar situations — like minds aiming to improve representation.
“Knowing that I'm with underrepresented students who are also pursuing STEM degrees really shows how the Millennium Scholars Program is dedicated to improving representation,” Mir said. “It’s great knowing that I have peers by my side, and I'm by my peers’ side.”
To learn more about EMS’ challenge for Giving Tuesday or to give, visit the college's Giving Tuesday website.