ACCESS: The INVISible scaffolding

June 13, 2024
Above: Audrey Glende

“I think teaching people that it’s okay to need breaks, to not know what’s next, to give room to learn and change is the most important thing to build an accepting environment like that.”

Transitioning from high school to college can be challenging in ideal circumstances but at the height of the Covid pandemic? Audrey Glende was forced to leap into the next chapter of her life by staying still, stuck at home. There were so many possible opportunities to pursue; her life had given her interests in everything from math and physics to visual arts and piano composition, just to name a few. But which to choose? 

And more importantly, how does one make an educated decision when all the information is funneled through a Zoom call?

Amid this chaos she was introduced to the ACCESS Scholars Program, a first-year community committed to providing students with all the help they need to make academic goals, connect to mentors, and develop the leadership skills they need to excel. Now instead of committing a semester to a path that she might regret later, a summer cohort could briefly introduce her to various fields. With any luck that should provide some deeper context for a wiser decision.

What she received was more than she could have ever hoped for.

A Broader Perspective

Like so many students Glende entered higher education after years of being asked “What do you want to be when you grow up?” The classic pressure of narrowing down your life goals before college begins. But ACCESS understands that this can be a challenging question to answer without real-world experience, and as such provides it in spades. 

Encouraged to start as broadly as possible Glende gravitated towards physics, treating it as a toolset that could be used in whatever field she ended up in. Working with the ACCESS team, who facilitated her placement in a physics research lab during her freshman year, she secured critical experience related to what a job in STEM looks. This before spending years pursuing it. She was brought into a cohort of dozens of students from all walks of life, all asking the same questions she was, and together they moved forward with confidence. For Glende, a math major would join physics, with a philosophy of science major following soon after.

Reflecting on her path, Glende describes, “It was like I’ve taken a winding road through college, where instead of feeling like I’m working towards something — realizing it’s not for me and being forced to turn back — I’m always moving forward. I could slowly ease from one area to the next because of that advice to stay broad and stay general while I explore. It makes me feel more confident. Now I can narrow things down going into grad school applications.”

And thanks to this approach, Glende is fast approaching the completion of a triple major with honors. She works in the Deemyad Lab studying condensed matter in regard to crystals. The social system her cohort provided still holds strong to this day. And looking back on it all, she is amazed by how many fantastic things she’s been able to experience thanks to the guidance she received in ACCESS. “It's like an invisible scaffolding, supporting students in ways they would never know they needed otherwise.” 

Audrey Glende, a 2023 Goldwater Scholar, now mentors in the ACCESS program herself, eager to give back however she can, to help future students feel that same support and to experience that same success that she did. 

By Michael Jacobsen