Since its inception, ACCESS has evolved and now reflects contemporary values and our increasingly globalized society by supporting students from all backgrounds and dimensions of diversity.
Originally named the ACCESS Program for Women in Science and Mathematics, ACCESS was established in 1991, with a goal of priming undergraduate women for academic and career success in science disciplines. Today, ACCESS continues to advance the representation of women and gender equity across all dimensions of diversity, with the goal of preparing the next generation of exceptional thinkers and future leaders for success in their science education, and later careers.
ACCESS was created when Dr. Hugo Rossi, Dean of the University of Utah College of Science (91’) and world-renowned mathematician, was inspired by a group of Utah women in STEM careers, and studies that found that women in science had fewer opportunities than men at the time, especially in Utah. In hopes of addressing this inequity, Dr. Rossi submitted a proposal to the National Science Foundation (NSF) for the creation of a University of Utah program to support young women interested in studying science and mathematics.
Thanks to the work of Dr. Rossi and numerous collaborators, including Carolyn Connell, Colleen Kennedy, Richard Steiner, Jacquelyn Stonebraker, and Christopher Johnson, the NSF proposal was approved and the ACCESS Program for Women in Science and Mathematics was founded. NSF funding for the program ended in 1993, but through support from the University, our community, and private donors, ACCESS continues to thrive and evolve.
The first ACCESS class (‘91) consisted of 20 science students. Since then, each year the ACCESS award has supported an average of 33 students each year. The ACCESS alumni network continues to grow and is now over 800 strong.
The program was re-envisioned in 2018 in response to changing demographic demands and under new directorship. This included establishing partnerships with the College of Engineering, the College of Mines and Earth Sciences, and the Department of Communications. This One U model broadens recruiting efforts and helps students to inform their academic and professional goals at the earliest possible stage in their undergraduate education.
In addition, the program now begins with a new (2018) ACCESS exclusive summer course, Science in a Changing World (SCI 3000). The curriculum in this “STEAM” (STEM with integration of arts and humanities) based course affords students with an opportunity to consider and learn about global policy, communication, and STEM. Research faculty and graduate students from the Colleges of Science, Mines & Earth Sciences, and Engineering, as well as an array of campus and community program representatives participate in instruction.
Changes to the summer curriculum have made it possible to offer the ACCESS award to college transfer students for the first time in its 30-year history. This was a critical change as transfer students represent approximately 30% of the University of Utah undergraduate population (based on 2018 data).
In 2021, the ACCESS Program rebranded as “ACCESS Scholars” to more accurately reflect the program’s values of excellence, leadership, and diversity. Most ACCESS students give back to the student community, make research and engagement a signature part of their undergraduate experience, and go onto graduate and professional schools after graduation. As “ACCESS Scholars” students will readily identify the program as a distinguishing opportunity that recognizes excellence but also encourages and rewards future mentorship.
As time passes, the ACCESS program will continue to adapt to best suit the needs of the scientific, engineering, and University of Utah communities.
ACCESS works for students today, and the workforce of tomorrow, with a vision of greater inclusion, community and accessibility across STEM fields.