COSAM News Articles 2022 August 25th Anniversary Summer Bridge Program Alumni Spotlight: Member of first STEM Summer Bridge class, TaShawna Stokes delivers 25th STEM Summer Bridge keynote address and highlights program’s importance

25th Anniversary Summer Bridge Program Alumni Spotlight: Member of first STEM Summer Bridge class, TaShawna Stokes delivers 25th STEM Summer Bridge keynote address and highlights program’s importance

Published: 08/15/2022

By: Matthew Gonzales

TaShawna Stokes, Auburn class of 2001, delivered the keynote address at the 25th STEM Summer Bridge closing ceremony on July 1st, 2022. However, this was not her first experience with the STEM Summer Bridge program. “I was a member of the ’97 class, which was the first one,” Stokes began, after being introduced by her two children. In her keynote, Stokes spoke about how she felt extreme pressure after graduating high school, feeling that she had to make the “right” decisions as she progressed forward. She had doubts about herself and was not sure which direction to turn for help. Fortunately, the STEM Summer Bridge program was there to offer a “life-changing experience.”

Twenty-five years ago, Overtoun Jenda, along with support from Dean Stewart Schneller, designed and implemented the STEM Summer Bridge program. This four-week residential program offered academic preparation and support for students from historically excluded groups to set them up to successfully navigate the rigors of the College of Sciences and Mathematics (COSAM) curriculum and the STEM fields at large. Today, STEM Summer Bridge continues this same mission and the COSAM Office of Inclusion, Equity and Diversity (OIED) collaborates with the Samuel Ginn College of Engineering Academic Excellence Program to reach as many students as possible.

“Dr. Jenda motivated us,” Stokes continued from behind the podium, highlighting how meaningful it was to have a role model in Jenda. Through STEM Summer Bridge, Stokes explained, she was exposed to many different sorts of career paths in the sciences, made life-long friends with whom she is still in contact, and, for the first time, felt like she was surrounded by driven scholars deeply interested in the sciences just like herself.

In a conversation a few days after her keynote address, Stokes expanded upon what STEM Summer Bridge did for her. “It showed me that what I want to do is not impossible.” At all levels, from her peers completing the program alongside her to the counselors helping to facilitate the program to Jenda himself, she found both support and motivation. However, the impact of STEM Summer Bridge did not stop at the end of the four-week experience. Rather, there was a consistent stream of support coming from the Office of Diversity and Multicultural Affairs, now called the OIED. “I’ll tell you one thing about the sciences. If you cannot hold your own, you will not be able to make it,” Stokes explained. That did not mean she had to hold her own by herself, however. She continued, “they didn’t just push us in and say, ‘okay, we showed you what it's like, good luck!’ Do you know how special that makes you feel?”

Looking back at the last 25 years of the STEM Summer Bridge program, Stokes made sure to highlight a key benefit that this program has provided. As a pediatrician currently working in Lawrenceville, GA, she sees increasing the numbers of historically excluded students joining the medical profession as one of the great accomplishments of the STEM Summer Bridge program. She explained that STEM Summer Bridge “makes an impact not just for that person individually, but it also makes an impact for the changing diversity in our society.” Representation matters in healthcare, she said, because “there is something about seeing yourself [in your medical care provider] … Not just race or gender, but socioeconomic status, family status… because of programs like STEM Summer Bridge, it gives people the opportunity to say, ‘hey, there will be more people that look like me who progress in this field.’ It seems so simple, but without STEM Summer Bridge, that security, that confidence, may not have been there.”

Stokes also looked to the future of STEM Summer Bridge. She envisioned a mentorship program in which faculty and other members of the STEM fields can help students all along their journey at Auburn. Fortunately, COSAM OIED has established just such a program, and plans to expand this program in the coming years. In addition, Stokes hoped for increased funding for STEM Summer Bridge, which would allow COSAM OIED and the Academic Excellence Program to not only reach more students who would benefit from the program but also provide a greater amount of scholarship funding to these students. COSAM OIED agrees, and in celebration of 25 years of STEM Summer Bridge, has established an initiative to raise $1,000,000 to create an endowed professorship, provide study abroad opportunities, and expand scholarship availability to deserving students.

Stokes finished with words of gratitude. "I want to thank the College of Sciences and Mathematics for always encouraging and supporting me individually, but also for what they are doing for these future leaders.”

Learn about the events established to celebrate STEM Summer Bridge’s 25th anniversary and donate to COSAM OIED’s fund-raising initiative here.

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