Lafayette LEADERS is working to build inclusive and supportive community for STEM students of color


LEADERS hosts workshops, guest speakers and student panels in order to support its student scholars. Photo taken pre-COVID. (Photo Courtesy of Maria Padilla ’22)

The Lafayette Leadership and Enrichment Academy for Diverse Emerging Researchers and Scientists, or LEADERS, is a growing student organization with the mission of bringing unity and support to under-represented students in the STEM field.

“I want to show other people that I know what it feels like to be the only person of color in a room and have it seem like everyone else is unlike you, or not even being comfortable saying ‘I don’t understand’ something because everyone else keeps nodding,” said Maria Padilla ’22, president of LEADERS. “To me, trying to bring that space into our small community was so important. One of our goals is to allow students to feel motivated enough to move forward despite challenges.”

The club was formed in the spring of 2018 and was approved by student government in the fall of 2020. The focus now, according to current members, has been on increasing engagement in the community.

“We have some sense of leadership…so we’re building tools and acquiring new skills for diverse groups, which would be anybody in the underrepresented community or if you’re a [first-generation] college student,” Padilla said. “Aside from that, we are trying to build or help our scholars become emerging researchers and scientists, whether that be them going on to a Ph.D program, grad school or maybe a professional school.”

One of the organization’s goals, according to Padilla, is to build an inclusive community for students of color and first-generation students in the STEM community, where every student can receive support. She emphasized that the club is meant to support those that feel underrepresented in their field.

She added that the club is currently finding different ways to engage with incoming classes and in underrepresented communities to encourage them to become involved with LEADERS.

The organization holds workshops, guest speakers, student panels and social nights, which usually involve games such as trivia. The social nights revolve around a celebration or tradition that occurs in that specific month. This month’s social night will revolve around Black History month.