Emily Bates, BS’97

It just so happened that the day that the University of Colorado closed down its labs, including Dr. Emily Bates’, she was in labor giving birth to her second child. “I was having conversations with my students about what we needed to do from the hospital bed,” she says. “My husband could not join me for the birth of our son. Our daughter couldn’t meet her brother at the hospital. As soon as it looked like our son and I were healthy, we were sent home.”

Needless to say, the research in Bates’ lab where she is an Associate Professor in the Department of Pediatrics, (Developmental Biology) at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, slowed considerably. “We have not had the opportunity to bring new undergraduate and high school interns into the lab this summer like we usually do, but we have continued to work with one high school student and one undergraduate doing some data analysis from home this summer.”  The lab currently hosts four graduate students as part of the team, but only two people are allowed in the lab at a time.”

At the University of Utah the ACCESS program was key to her success, providing her a cohort of women who were friends and study partners. Established in 1991, ACCESS, a College of Science program now in its 30th year, provides freshmen and transfer students, from a variety of backgrounds, with a scholarship and a supportive path into STEM degrees and careers. For Bates, the program encouraged, she says, “role models to normalize being a woman in science.”

While a scholarship and the rigorous undergraduate research program were main factors in her selection of the School of Biological Sciences, she recalls how fortunate she was to get the right research mentor.  That mentor was Dr. Anthea Letsou in Human Genetics on the University Health campus. “I learned how to test a hypothesis from her, how to use flies to learn about developmental signaling, and how to read a scientific paper.” Perhaps equal to the actual science, Bates learned how to present her research to others. Letsou, she says, “had more confidence in my potential as a scientist than anyone I had met. It was because of her encouragement that I applied to top tier graduate schools.” The whole experience—of the research mentor coupled with ACCESS—gave her confidence and “really jump started my career.”

Photo credit Andrew Silverman

It takes a combination of targeted programs, mentoring and true grit on the part of every student to succeed as Bates did at U Biology. Along the way, she ran cross country for the U her freshman year before turning to marathons (She’s run 18 of them, including as a US representative in Kenya.) Bates credits the unique environment at the U which converged for her, facilitating her graduation in 1997 with a BS and her acceptance to Harvard University for graduate school where she earned her PhD. Returning to Utah, she taught at Brigham Young University for four years before accepting her current position at Colorado.

That was, of course, before COVID-19 reared its head and certainly changed the vector of how she is pursuing her career in pediatrics. She advises students to find a research opportunity with a good mentor and “stick with it,” even during the pandemic. There are skills that can be acquired “at home,” she continues, “that would be useful in labs as soon as they open. For example, learning to critically read a scientific paper, or write programs (in Matlab, R, or Python) to interpret data would be useful in a lot of labs right now.”

In the meantime, she and her family are settling in on the other side of the Rockies from Salt Lake City until a “new normal” makes its appearance. “Luckily,” she says of that singular time in the hospital virtually alone and delivering a child, “my mom had flown in before everything shut down, so she could help us for the first couple of weeks. But other family members have not felt safe flying to visit and meet the newest addition.

“Personally, that has been the hardest part of this pandemic.”

      You can read about the history of the ACCESS program here

by David Pace

History of ACCESS

Since its inception, ACCESS has evolved and now reflects contemporary values and our increasingly globalized society by supporting students from all backgrounds in their pursuit of science and engineering. Originally named the ACCESS Program for Women in Science and Mathematics, established in 1991, with a goal of priming undergraduate women for academic and career success in 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 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 and College of Mines and Earth Sciences. ACCESS recruits people from all backgrounds, with a particular interest in supporting first-generation college students and students from varied economic backgrounds. ACCESS seeks students with life experiences, leadership qualities, and/or goals that align with advancing gender equity in STEM fields. The 2018 cohort reflects this value.

The 2018 cohort of 32 students by the numbers:

  • 90% percent of the students qualify for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)
  • 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). 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). 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.

Professor Stacy Firth, Chemical Engineer, and ACCESS alumna (class of 1991), teaching students during Summer 2018.

ACCESS Application

Applying for the ACCESS Scholarship

For 2021-2022, ACCESS seeks all students who are inspired by science and committed to advancing gender equality in STEM. Application opens December 1, 2020 and closes February 15, 2021.

How ACCESS students are selected:

A team of STEM faculty evaluates each applicant using a holistic review process that considers high school course load and rigor, extracurricular experiences, letters of recommendation, application essays, and GPA.

Your ACCESS Application Must Include:

Personal Essay

Highlight your interests, academic and career goals, and motivation to pursue a major and career in STEM. How will ACCESS help you succeed, as an undergraduate, in the sciences or engineering? (500 words max)


Character and Life Experiences

Provide insight into your character and any personal hardships that are relevant to admission into the ACCESS Program. (250 words max)



Science and innovation benefits from collaboration that comes from varied viewpoints. ACCESS seeks to build a diverse and inclusive cohort with individuals from different backgrounds. How might your own life experiences, leadership qualities, and/or goals contribute to advancing gender equity in STEM fields? Do you have any unusual or varied life experiences that might contribute to diversity in ACCESS? This can include fluency in other languages, economic hardship, being the first in your immediate family to seek a college degree, and/or cultural or societal interests and experiences. (300 words max)

Provide information on work experience and volunteering, leadership positions, awards, summer science programs, science projects, advanced courses (honors, AP, IB, college), clubs and extracurricular activities. In addition, do you have basic or advanced computer coding skills? If yes, share languages and how you would rate your own coding proficiency. (200 words max)

We are especially interested in students who have taken rigorous science courses (high school and/or college level).

High School Students

At least one letter must be from a science or math teacher.


Transfer Students

At least one letter must be from a professor, and where possible, from a science professor. Transfer students who have not taken STEM courses while in college, may request that a former high school teacher submit a recommendation.

If you would like to further highlight examples of rigor and proficiency in your academic portfolio, please feel free to provide AP, IB, ACT, and/or SAT scores. Subscores that demonstrate preparedness in the STEM disciplines are particularly helpful.