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The Lafayette

The Oldest College Newspaper in Pennsylvania

The Lafayette

The Oldest College Newspaper in Pennsylvania

The Lafayette

Hanson Center promotes diversity in STEM leadership with annual summer program

SPALers build confidence and leadership skills by taking summer courses, completing STEM modules and participating in social gatherings. (Photo courtesy of @lafayettecollege on Instagram)

Coming to campus for the first time can be daunting, especially for those from disadvantaged groups hoping to enter historically exclusive fields. Each year, the Hanson Center’s Summer Program to Advance Leadership in STEM (SPAL) eases the transition from high school to college by giving marginalized students the opportunity to explore Lafayette College’s many STEM programs.

Founded in 2008, SPAL is a strength-building program with the goal of helping advance inclusive leadership in the STEM field.

“Strength-based means it’s for students who are ready to hit the ground running in the STEM fields, and would benefit by having a summer to learn more about STEM and the college experience,” Hanson Center Director Wendy Hill said.

The Hanson Center hand-selects students from the incoming class to participate in the program.

“​​We look at students who are coming into Lafayette, have an interest in STEM, are from historically minoritized groups, and are really ready to start their STEM education,” Hill said.

The SPAL program has been a milestone in the academic careers of many Lafayette students.

“SPAL students often say this is one of the most important things they did at Lafayette and helped them to really feel confident, and gave them the leadership skills to flourish in STEM,” Hill said.

This year, the SPAL program was made up of nine students from underrepresented groups including low-income, non-male identifying, non-white and first generation college students.

The program is made up of three components: credit-earning courses, STEM modules and social events. SPALers are enrolled in Introduction to Writing and Calculus 1.

“Those two courses really give them a leg up as they start the fall semester,” Hill said. “Both of those courses are relevant to whatever major they ended up deciding to be.”

Additionally, students complete STEM modules in various disciplines offered at Lafayette including engineering, geology and neuroscience.

“We have STEM modules where they learn more about particular areas in STEM. I think that helps to expand their knowledge about the STEM fields, so that they can make more informed decisions about what discipline they want to study,” Hill said.

Program participants are housed together for the duration of the program and a myriad of social gatherings are hosted in order to promote socializing and community building among students. Hill hopes to continue these events during the fall semester.

“That really helps develop friendships and bonding among the SPAL students. So it really helps to create a wonderful support network,” Hill said. “We are looking at doing something in the fall and also bringing former SPAL students together and so it is a community that continues to support one another.”

The program, which provides a small stipend, has already seen positive results in its alumni.

“I hope they feel empowered from this experience to grow and advance in the STEM fields, so that they really flourish in the disciplines.”

Additionally, skills gained during the SPAL program allow participants to improve campus.

“Each student, in their own way, is helping to make Lafayette a more inclusive and just place. So they’re helping change the culture in STEM,” Hill said.

Hill, who was recently appointed the first full-time director of the SPAL program, is already beginning to think about next year’s program. She plans to use feedback from faculty and students involved in this year’s program to determine what steps to take for next year.

For Hill, the best part is seeing how the students implement what they learn into their academic careers and beyond.

“It’s really rewarding to oversee this program because you feel like it’s having an impact on STEM leadership,” Hill said.

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About the Contributor
Isabella Gaglione
Isabella Gaglione, Culture Editor
Isabella Gaglione (she/her) is a junior English and Film & Media Studies double major from Long Island, New York. The Lafayette's resident Taylor Swift Reporter. 

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