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The ACCESS Program for Women in Science & Mathematics

A Glimpse of the Startup Life

@theU: March 11, 2018

ACCESS In The News

Brenda Payan-Medina (ACCESS, 2017)
College of Engineering, Fall 2018 Newsletter

Shaylee Larson (ACCESS, 2017) and Katrina Le (ACCESS, 2018)
Radioactive (KRCL, 90.1): August 1, 2018

Amber Barron (ACCESS, 2014)
SHERO, 2nd place, 2019 Utah Entrepreneur Challenge
Deseret News: May 16, 2017

Rebecca Hardenbrook (ACCESS, 2014)
College of Science Research Scholar, 2018

Judy Vu (ACCESS, 2002)
What ACCESS Means to Me, College of Science, 2010 

Lisa Grow Sun (ACCESS, 1991)
Deseret News: April 6, 1997

ACCESS Alumnae Spotlights

Audrey Brown (ACCESS, 2017)

Major: Biology; Minor: Mathematics 

Written by, Lindsey (guest reporter and copy editor for the ACCESS Spotlight project)

Audrey Brown (ACCESS, 2017)Audrey’s favorite memory of her ACCESS 2017-2018 experience was the surprise birthday party the women in her cohort threw for her, “I didn’t know any of them yet… and no one knew me, but they still threw the party.” Audrey applied to ACCESS for the science, but like generations before her found new friendships and a network of support in a group of women who were all embarking on the same journey, earning a degree in STEM. 

Audrey always knew that she wanted a job that would allow her to “learn throughout [her] life and continue to discover new things.” It wasn’t until she took a medical anatomy class in high school that she became motivated to study biology, with hopes of eventually contributing to medical research. Audrey worked with the ACCESS Director to find a lab and research experience that would supplement her interests, while providing her with new challenges. The ACCESS research experience gave Audrey the opportunity to apply her aptitude for mathematics to her curiosity about biology and medicine. Audrey’s interest in mathematics, biological sciences, and research were strengthened during ACCESS and her freshman year at the U. She plans to continuing studying the neurological basis of olfaction (the sense of smell) with Mathematics professor, Dr. Alla Borisyuk. Audrey hopes to pursue a Ph.D. and career in research, where she can continue to “discover new things.”

Audrey Rubart (ACCESS, 2016)

Major: Electrical Engineering 

Written by, Wallis Scholl (ACCESS, 2015)

Audrey Rubbart (Like many, Audrey dreamed of reaching the stars as a kid. While most of her friends gradually lost interest or moved on to other hobbies, Audrey remained fascinated by space. She fondly recalls attending a Utah State engineering camp in high school. The camp, which was centered on telescopes, radar, and satellites, appealed to her passion for applied physics, and left her with a sense of what she wanted to study in college, electrical engineering.

Audrey’s experience in ACCESS helped to further develop her career aspirations.  She’s especially thankful to the time spent on astronomy and theoretical physics during ACCESS because it helped her decide what focus to pursue within the field of electrical engineering.  Audrey also found opportunities for leadership through the ACCESS program, she was a head mentor for the ACCESS class of 2017. However, Audrey’s favorite memory of the ACCESS program was discovering an interest she never knew she had after watching a documentary about the Higgs boson. She said, “I had no previous knowledge of the Hadron collider… I talked about it for weeks.” Audrey’s experience highlights perhaps one of the best features of ACCESS, the opportunity it provides students to explore areas and fields they might not even have realized their interest in.

Marisa Bell (ACCESS, 2014)

Major: Biology

 Written by, Audrey Brown (ACCESS, 2017) 

Marisa’s favorite memory of ACCESS was one of the first days of the summer program when she and another student got “so hopelessly lost” trying to find their way back to the dorms. She treasures this memory because it was “a fun opportunity to meet someone and chat and be lost.” Like so many ACCESS women, Marisa valued the opportunity the summer program gave her to meet people and make friends. ACCESS also helped to launch Marisa into research that would carry her throughout her entire undergraduate career. Maris was placed in Tom Kursar and Phyllis Coley’s lab studying secondary metabolites in plants and loved it so much she stayed all four years as an undergraduate. Marisa ended up completing her Honor’s thesis in her lab, something that would never had happened if she had not been involved early on.

Marisa’s love for biology stems from her interest in plants and their systems. She says “I think that plants are underrepresented in Biology…they have just as complex of systems and aren’t all harmless vegetables.” As a recent 2018 graduate in Biology, with an emphasis in ecology and environmental sciences, Marisa wants to eventually become involved in library sciences. She says, “I think [library sciences] are great platform for people who may not have the means, or have different living situations, to get access to the knowledge they want or need…my degree helps me get into a niche so I can be more helpful to people who are looking for biology and plants.”

Laura Slusser (ACCESS, 2012)

Major: Physics

Written by, Lindsey (guest reporter and copy editor for the ACCESS Spotlight project)

Laura Slusser (ACCESS, 2012)Laura is a physics graduate and pre-medical student who participated in the ACCESS program in 2012. She started out in entomology, working in Neil Vickers' lab for her freshman year. Her interest permeated into other areas of life, and with other members of her ACCESS cohort and her sister, she formed a band called Millie and the Moths. During her sophomore year, she worked at the Telescope Array Project researching high-energy cosmic rays. After finishing her physics degree, Laura realized that she wanted to pursue a career in medicine. She is currently working in the Radiology Research Department at the University of Utah with Rock Hadley and Dennis Parker. She builds specialized coils for magnetic resonance imaging in hopes of developing better diagnostic tools for stroke patients.

Laura has maintained a strong appreciation for the interrelated nature of all STEM fields, and recognizes how her diverse background will make her a stronger MD in the future. “[What's] most important is realizing that even if it doesn't seem related, it is," she said. "There's a lot of chemistry involved in telescope physics. A lot of the scientific methods you use in a biology lab will also be very useful in a physics lab.”

Laura’s experience at the University of Utah as a woman in STEM wasn’t always easy. During her undergraduate career, she was directly impacted by sexism and the disproportionately low number of women in STEM fields. “[Sexism] can make you feel like you want to give up, but don’t give up,” she said. “This is the field you were meant to be in, this is your birthright. You deserve to be here and the world needs more people like you.”

Laura hopes to use the experience she has gained working in the radiology lab, and as a physics graduate, to aid with her long-term research and medical goals. She is considering a career in virtually all areas of medicine, including radiology. She plans to pair her scientific and medical interests in clinical research. As she noted: “Radiology is great… it's heavy into physics but also completely about medicine. Pulse sequencing [which is the use of energy pulses at certain frequencies to generate images] involves quantum physics, which is very interesting to me.”

When asked why she changed to the medical track, Laura explains: “When I was a kid, I had this dream to save the world, which sounds so amorphous now looking back. Now, if I could save just one life, that would be enough for me. I could die happy.” As the recipient of a kidney transplant and soon to be STEM extraordinaire, Laura will bring a lot to medical research and the patients she will someday attend to.

Parvathi Radhakrishnan (ACCESS, 2010)

Honors, Cell and Molecular Biology
University of Utah School of Medicine
Internal Medicine Resident, Brown University

 Written by, Merry Joseph (ACCESS, 2016)

Parvathi Radhakrishnan (ACCESS, 2010)For Dr. Parvathi Radhakrishnan, University of Utah School of Medicine, class of 2018, participated in the ACCESS program in 2010. ACCESS transformed her “primordial interests” in science into the building blocks of pursuing an honors degree in Cell and Molecular Biology with a final goal of helping people through medicine. The ACCESS program not only attracted Radhakrishnan to the University of Utah for her undergraduate studies, but also exposed her to cutting-edge cancer research at the Huntsman Cancer Institute as a freshman. As a student researcher, she worked with Dr. Alana Welm throughout her undergraduate years studying Ron kinase pathway- facilitated breast cancer metastasis in mice and human tissue samples. Today, Radhakrishnan is an Internal Medicine Resident at Brown University, Rhode Island.

During her undergraduate studies, she completed a physiology class taught by Dr. Matthew Linton– a learning experience that inspired her to consider a career in medicine, specifically internal medicine. Her fascination with the human body’s functions and inner workings merged well with her interests in researching the regulation of protein proliferation pathways in aggressive tumors, and reinforced her goal of wanting to become a doctor. Currently, Radhakrishnan is working towards becoming an Academic Hospitalist and applying the same concepts she learned from her physiology lectures all those years ago into caring for inpatient non-surgical patients with acute illnesses.

“When I came into college, I wasn’t sure of what I wanted from research. And honestly, finding the correct domain of research for a person takes time,” she pointed out. “Luckily with the ACCESS program’s recommendation and connections I didn’t have to cold call my way into a lab, which as a freshman would’ve been hard.” Radhakrishnan recommends properly researching about various labs on your own even before committing to one for the ACCESS program so as to reduce time spent later trying to get into a lab once ACCESS ends. “But keep an open mind about the different types of research you’ll do. You might end up liking a computational lab better than a wet lab atmosphere, or vise versa.”

As a minority, and a STEM student, Radhakrishnan found it reassuring to be part of a cohort of “like-minded, driven girls” through ACCESS, whom she’s had the opportunity to work with in classes, and even in the hospital, years after they all lived together in the Crocker Science House. Her experiences as an ACCESS student, especially her familiarity with working on hypothesis-based research, presenting posters, and collaborating with peers, served as the highlight of Radhakrishnan’s medical school application. ACCESS helped hone her critical thinking skills and ability to converse with professionals in the scientific/ medical community during interviews, that were instrumental in helping her medical school application stand out amongst other candidates.

Dr. Radhakrishnan’s future work as an academic hospitalist will be patient-centered but will also include teaching medical students and research. She has not strayed away from her ACCESS research roots and wants to be involved in Quality Improvement projects that look at ways to increase efficiency and improve healthcare outcomes in the emergency room. When asked why she would like to teach and mentor even as a doctor, she explains that “Having professors and mentors from the ACCESS program and in medical school who were invested in my educational experience, and genuinely cared about me and my successes, played a huge role in helping me accomplish the things I did and boosting my confidence.

For Radhakrishnan, inner strength and resilience have been constant companions on the path to medical school and beyond. “I always try to have a positive outlook,” she said. “There’s a lot of help and support if you’re willing to try. My parents, professors and especially ACCESS laid a lot of the groundwork for me to dream big, and I want that to be the same experience for future generations."

Sara Dansie Jones (ACCESS, 1992)

Chemical Engineer, Patent Attorney
Co-founder of the Women’s Tech Council and SheTech

Written by, Gabrielle Zweifel (ACCESS, 2015)

Sara Dansie Jones (ACCESS, 1992)Sara Dansie Jones was a member of the 1992 ACCESS cohort. After finishing her first year and time in ACCESS, she went on to major in chemical engineering. After graduating, Sara entered a difficult job market. In hopes of pursuing the best opportunities possible, Sara became a patent lawyer, which allowed her to utilize both her degrees in engineering and law.

Working in a male-dominated field was not without challenges. Sara was the first attorney to propose maternity leave to her firm. Despite resistance, Sara went on to become the first woman to make partner at her law firm, and the firm’s first female attorney to have children. Sara’s experiences and the lack of female mentors in her field inspired her desire to help women in tech fields succeed. She co-found the Women’s Tech Council, an organization with over 10,000 members that helps women in tech utilize their talents and leadership skills. Sara is also responsible for SheTech, an organization the helps high school girls interested in STEM explore opportunities and mentorship possibilities.

Sara says participating in ACCESS gave her, and the other women in her cohort, confidence and security going into their degrees, because they had a great support network in each other. Sara is still friends with several women from the ACCESS class of 1992.

Currently, Sara is the president of InclusionPro, a corporation that helps other companies become more inclusive and diverse. She is also working on a tech startup called Burbley. Sara would like to encourage current and future ACCESS students to explore all opportunities that come their way. As she explains, “A STEM degree is going to be an amazing launch pad for you.”

Alana Welm (ACCESS, 1992)

Associate Professor of Oncological Sciences
Huntsman Cancer Institute

Written by, Audrey Brown (ACCESS, 2017)

Alana Welm (ACCESS, 1992)Alana Welm has had a passion for research her whole life. As a self-described, “lab rat”, Alana became involved in research during high school while working in Walter Hill’s lab at the University of Montana. She says, “I was interested in medicine but felt that my real interest was in the puzzle of it, and that the puzzle was really in the science.” Because of this Alana knew early on that she would like to be involved in medical research.

Alana was a member of the 1992 ACCESS cohort. Her favorite part of ACCESS was being able to be part of a cohort interested in the same things as her. Alana realized how valuable the research portion of the ACCESS program was, stating that “I was lucky to have research experience in high school, but I saw how valuable the experience was for others who had not had that opportunity.” After finishing the ACCESS program, Alana ended up transferring to the University of Montana and continued working in Walter Hill’s lab, eventually graduating with a degree in both microbiology and medical technology.

After graduating Alana was accepted to a PhD program in Baylor College of Medicine in Houston and got her PhD in cell and molecular biology in 2000. Afterwards she did her postdoc at the University of California San Francisco with Nobel laureate J. Michael Bishop researching cancer oncogenes. This propelled her into cancer research. Currently Alana works as a principal investigator at the Huntsman Cancer Center studying breast cancer metastasis.



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Thank you to the many corporate, business, and individual donors for supporting ACCESS and women in STEM.

More about our sponsors

George S. and Dolores Dore Eccles Foundation



College of Science
University of Utah
1390 East Presidents Circle
Crocker Science, Rm 210
Salt Lake City, UT 84112

Phone: (801) 587-8978



Last Updated: 7/12/19