The ACCESS Program for Women in Science and Mathematics was established in 1991. Since its founding, the program has primed undergraduate women for academic and career success across science disciplines. 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, 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. The program is now known as ACCESS.
The NSF proposal (1991) outlined 4 key goals for the launch of ACCESS:
- Improve the retention of women studying science and/or math at the University of Utah
- Increase awareness of academic and career opportunities in STEM fields
- Provide early research experience
- Offer experiences that foster community and inclusion
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 cohorts of 24 to 42 women annually. The ACCESS alumnae network continues to grow and, as of 2018, was nearly 800 strong.
The program was re-envisioned in 2018 in response to changing demographic demands and under new leadership. This included establishing partnerships with the College of Engineering and College of Mines and Earth Sciences to better support women pursuing degrees and careers in fields where they continue to be underrepresented. Moreover, the program now strives to foster diversity across STEM disciplines, by working to recruit women from all backgrounds, with a particular interest in supporting first-generation college students, students from varied economic backgrounds, and in representing numerous ethnicities. The 2018 cohort reflects this effort.
The 2018 cohort, of 32 students by the numbers:
- 90% percent of the students qualify for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)
- 30% identify as women of color
- 30% are first-generation college students
In addition, the program now begins with a newly designed, ACCESS exclusive, summer course, Science in a Changing World (SCI 3000, students earn 3-upper division course credits). The curriculum in this “STEAM” (STEM with integration of arts and humanities) based course affords students with an opportunity to learn about contemporary research and the significant interactions between science, engineering, and society. 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 is also awarding spaces in the cohort to college transfer women for the first time in its nearly 30-year history of the program. This was a critical change as transfer students represent approximately 30% of the University of Utah undergraduate population, based on data from 2018. As time passes, the ACCESS program will continue to adapt to best suit the needs and interestes of young women, the scientific, engineering, and University of Utah communities.
The ACCESS Program for Women in Science and Mathematics works for women today, and the workforce of tomorrow, with a vision of greater inclusion, diversity, and accessibility across STEM fields.
Professor Stacy Firth, Chemical Engineer, and ACCESS alumna (class of 1991),
teaching students during Summer 2018
For more information:
- ACCESS celebrates 25 years
- Demographics, data, and information about challenges for women interested in STEM