Kamar: Hello! If you wouldn’t mind, could you please introduce yourself.
Courtney: Hi! Yes so, my name is Courtney Russo, and I am the program Administrator in the Center for STEM Diversity (CSD). My primary responsibility is managing the STEM Ambassadors Program.
Kamar: Wonderful. How did the Center come about on campus?
Courtney: So, the Center was started back in 2008 because the School of Engineering, in part with Art and Sciences and Tufts overall, recognized that underrepresented students in STEM needed more support. So, the Center was started to provide the support network of the Dean’s Office, faculty, and staff that could help students in STEM, and so they could be on par with other students in their majors.
It was also brought on to start the Bridge to Engineering Success at Tufts (B.E.S.T) Program, allowing a select few students from each incoming engineering class to take two summer classes meant to provide support during their college transition.
Kamar: I would say that as a student on campus, there is a common misconception that the Center for STEM Diversity is only for Engineers due to the popularity of the BEST program, but I was wondering if you could provide information about some of the other resources that the CSD offers students.
Courtney: Yes, so that is a huge misconception. Because we are under the umbrella of the School of Engineering, of course students will think “well I’m not an Engineer, so that’s not for me,” but the Center provides support for all underrepresented students in any STEM discipline. So, this does go across to the School of Arts and Sciences as well.
Outside of BEST, which I think is the misconception that CSD is BEST or that they are one in the same, when the BEST program was created for the summer component, students that were not able to be a part of BEST due to limited resources of the small cohort, the group called PRIZE was created for Arts and Science students and other engineering students that didn’t fit into BEST. The PRIZE program, now referred to as the RISE program, allows for students to receive support not only academically, but also a way for students to develop social networks.
We also have the STEM Ambassador Program which is a professional development program that supports students in both Engineering and Arts and Sciences. There is a research grant that supports any underrepresented STEM major who wants to conduct research. And outside of all of this we are really a Center that supports underrepresented students because its hard being a First Gen student and it’s hard being a Person of Color at Tufts which is a Predominantly White Institution (PWI).
Kamar: Why do you feel STEM Diversity is important?
Courtney: I think diversity is important in STEM because the representation in these fields are important. Students need to see themselves in these fields so that others can see them and say “Hey! That person in that lab looks like me. Maybe I can do something similar,” or “Woah! This professor is really cool, and they look like me…I want to talk to them after class.”
You want these types of places and fields to be approachable and not just for the white students that are most comfortable in these settings due to the construct of society allowing for them to dominate in these fields. The CSD was made to bridge that gap and make these spaces more accessible. Without diversity, innovative ideas that target change will not be created.
Kamar: How does the CSD continue to diversify the STEM community on and off campus?
Courtney: Of course, it is hard currently for all of us to do so, given we are all off campus due to this pandemic. Typically, on campus, we create a place for everyone to socialize and build community. We also work with other student organizations to understand the need of students we service as well as reach out to them as a resource to ensure student are aware of all the resources we have to offer.
We try to be a starting point for students. If you don’t know where to go, or don’t know how to ask for help, I believe this Center is that place for you. You don’t know how to start looking for a research opportunity, or you don’t know how to ask a question in class, or even where to find tutoring. Our Center, I would hope, is the platform were students can lead head first into their academic success when they may not know where to go. At the very least we can connect you to someone that can provide you with the specific assistance you desire.
Off campus, especially with STEM Ambassadors, we are going into the Medford/Somerville and Chinatown schools, really trying to integrate ourselves into the community to spread initiatives to promote representation and diversity in the STEM fields. Teaching science topics in a fun and innovate way that engages students’ interest in STEM allows for high school students to see Tufts students that look like them being successful in college and also shows that they can pursue a career in STEM. Our students are always in four hundred different activities, and killing it, while spreading our collective mission on the ground, even more so than we can, given our Center is only three staff members. We need all the help we can get if we are trying to make these changes in our community and change the conversation for the better.
Kamar: I feel like something that was really important that you touched on, was that the CSD could be a great starting place for students to get help. How can students get involved in the Center?
Courtney: A great way to get involved with the Center when we are on campus, would be to drop by and just reach out. I know that this could be the scariest step for some people, but I think I am pretty approachable, and I always have my door open for students to chill and chat with me and each other. We are here to help you be all you can be and be as successful as possible here at Tufts. We have workshops and social events with snacks and games. CSD has grown to be a community for our student and essentially a second family, and we would love for you to join this family.
Kamar: Wonderful! Thank you so much Courtney for taking the time to have this interview with me.
Courtney: The pleasure was all mine. Stay safe and have a great day!