Program promotes women in science and math fields

By Becky GINOS

BOUNTIFUL—Little girls can dream big. Thanks to a program at the University of Utah women are being encouraged to major in science and math – fields that in the past were mostly dominated by men. “ACCESS for Women in Science & Mathematics was developed about 25 years ago by a professor who was looking for a program for women interested in a STEM degree,” said Rebecca Bassett, who graduated from Bountiful High in 2017 and is participating in the program. “He realized that women were not completing their degrees (in the field) so he wanted to develop a community of women in a STEM cohort to offer them experience and mentorship.” For seven weeks in the summer a professor from the college of science instructs the women. “They talk about chemistry, physics, math and biology,” said Bassett. “It’s really cool. Then in the spring semester we were placed in a research lab. Mine was physics and astronomy where we’re studying dark matter. It’s really interesting to learn about it.” Bassett said her lab is very computer based. “We work with data from the Fermi (Gamma-ray Space) Telescope that orbits the Earth and looks at gamma rays’ emissions from neighboring galaxies,” she said. “It maps the gamma rays and takes the known sources out of the picture and what’s left is the dark matter. The application is figuring out what it is and expanding on the model to explore different sources of gamma rays. It gives us a better understanding of the universe we live in.” The program is in addition to her regular college major that is chemistry. “My dream has been to be an astronaut,” she said. “That’s what I’m aiming for but I’m also interested in nuclear chemistry.” An AP chemistry class in high school prompted her to major in it said Bassett. “My teacher was super awesome. I’ve liked science since I was really little. It always fascinated me. It’s cool to find out how the world works and come to realize the amazing world we live in.” She also worked as a camp leader at a science camp. “It reinvigorated my interest and I started thinking ‘I can do this, it’s actually a feasible career for me.’” Bassett heard about the program from a friend and completed the application process. “A new cohort begins each year,” she said. “There were 24 of us (in the cohort) and we all stay in touch. It was great because when I started in the fall I already knew 24 people on campus. ACCESS alumni can become mentors for the new ACCESS girls too.” Now she wants other women to realize their potential in STEM fields. “I definitely think this is something we can work on as a society,” she said. “I want to encourage girls to go for it. Don’t let your fear of being the only one in STEM or societal expectations that girls can’t do it or are not supposed to be in it stop you. No – you are supposed to be here. Seek out mentors to help you succeed and learn.”


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