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News, University News

Celebrating diversity in STEM and business: Brown clubs make an impact

Undergraduate, graduate student clubs work to support minority students in academic, professional fields

By
Contributing Writer
Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Several student organizations at Brown, which focus on supporting students of color in STEM and business fields, have been working to improve representation in academic and professional spaces and foster inclusive communities on campus. 

Mosaic+ “focuses on creating … a community for underrepresented minorities in computer science,” said its former coordinator Alex Wilson ’22. According to Mosaic+’s website, the club was founded in 2015 by former Associate Professor of Computer Science Chad Jenkins and co-leaders Nifemi Madarikan ’17 and Chelse-Amoy Steele ’18. The club includes members of Latinx, African American and Pacific Islander or native descent and welcomes all students interested in computer science, regardless of their concentration, Wilson said.

“Six years ago, it was really hard to have a community space for people to gather before or after assignment hours, and just getting to know people was really difficult. So a few like-minded individuals took it upon themselves to … build this community for the small population (of people of color) within the department,” Wilson said. “It’s really taken off from there.”

Today, Mosaic+ offers students social and educational opportunities such as the Transition Program and the TA Program, according to Wilson. 

The Transition Program is a year-long program offered to new students that partners them with peer mentors and offers a way to meet other students in the computer science community at Brown, he said.

Meanwhile, the TA Program hosts annual workshops that prepare Mosaic+ members to interview for CS courses’ TA positions. “Alongside these programs, Mosaic+ also holds industry events and (other) workshops to help students get ready for life after college and interviews with different companies,” Wilson said.

“One of the strongest factors … in increasing diversity in tech,” he added, “is (people of color) getting into those spaces to be able to navigate conversations to better the hiring process or better outreach or better recruiting.”

For those interested in consulting, the Black Consulting Initiative also aims to support students in a field where they are historically underrepresented, according to BCI founder Okezie Okoro ’22. The organization offers means of professional development for Black students at the University who are interested in consulting while also offering consulting and advisory services to small, Black-owned businesses.

“In my experience, I found that for a lot of Black students, if they didn’t know anything about consulting, it’s a daunting experience to go through a rigorous recruitment process,” Okoro said. Noticing an absence of places at the University “primarily created for Black students” that could offer that introduction into the field, he “wanted to create a space which would (encourage) people to dip their toes (into consulting) and, at the same time, get a decent amount of experience.” 

This summer, following “the Breonna Taylor and George Floyd incidents, as well as the economic (damage to) small, Black-owned businesses, I knew there were things that had to be done,” Okoro said.

The organization spent its first semester recruiting undergraduate students and cultivating interest in its initiatives, Okoro said. BCI is currently working on week-long advising projects with affiliated Black-owned businesses and plans on continuing these projects in the summer.

Some graduate student organizations are also working to increase racial minority representation in various fields.

The Brown University Student National Medical Association, the University’s chapter of the SNMA, consists of Alpert Medical School graduate students. The national organization was created in 1964, primarily because Black students were not allowed to be a part of the National Medical Association, according to Brown SNMA co-president Uche Onwunaka ’19 MA’20 MD’24. 

“Our chapter at Brown mostly does work related to Black students and underrepresented students in medicine to mostly make a community space for them, but also (to) think about how we can use our position as Black medical students to kind of think about the populations that we want to serve as future physicians,” Onwunaka said. 

Brown SNMA has been actively working with students of color in the Providence community for several years now and continues to do so through community programs. “One of our upcoming programs is On the Horizon, which is a pipeline program to introduce students in high school and undergrad to potential careers in medicine” through workshops, lectures and other medical programming “so that they can see themselves in these fields,” Onwunaka said. 

In the organization’s current Healing Hands program, the high school students are taken to the Med School’s anatomy lab, where they are shown how medical students perform dissections and “pull together information in a case to unpack what might be happening to a potential patient,” Onwunaka added.

As these organizations and others continue to work to make academic and professional spaces more accessible, Wilson acknowledges that “there’s still a lot of work to be done.” 

Okoro said this is especially the case in business, where “a lot of representation efforts have been made in the finance sphere rather than the consulting sphere.” 

“It’s really important to get representation … (to) change the culture of these different industries,” Okoro added.

“One of the first steps to increase diversity is being able to have and hold power in the conversation of increasing diversity,” Wilson said.

“It’s definitely an ongoing conversation …  to change the face of what medicine looks like,” Onwunaka said. “A lot of progress has been made, … but (when) you hear the experiences of marginalized patients, you know enough is still not being done.” 

“One way to address those wrongs is by changing the face of who gets to be a doctor and what that looks like,” she said. 

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