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SEP brings diversity, inclusion to STEM

Jose Gonzalez-Campelo/The Cougar

The Scholar Enrichment Program at the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics received the 2022 INSIGHT into Diversity Magazine’s Inspiring Programs in STEM Award and the 2022 Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board’s Star Award.

The Inspiring Programs in STEM Award calls attention to “colleges, universities and organizations that have established cutting-edge programs, events and initiatives dedicated to the work of improving diversity, equity and inclusion in STEM,” according to INSIGHT into Diversity Magazine’s September 2022 issue.

Meanwhile, the THECB’s Star Award recognized SEP for “innovation and excellence in Texas higher education” and “exceptional contributions toward meeting one or more of the goals outlined in the state’s new strategic plan for higher education, Building a Talent Strong Texas,” according to their website.

SEP consists of a variety of support mechanisms to help underrepresented minority, Pell-eligible and other students to succeed in introductory natural science, math, engineering and technology courses.

Students can enroll in workshops worth one credit hour to work on practice problems with classmates in small groups and to receive tutoring from other students who have taken the class before.

Over 1,000 students take these workshops in 15 different STEM courses each semester, and SEP is one of the most academically diverse peer-led team learning programs in the nation, according to SEP director Eduardo Cerna.

“What makes SEP so successful is the tight-knit community we surround students with,” Cerna said. “Everyone roots for each other because we are all trying to achieve the same goal: pass our classes, graduate with our degree and get a fulfilling career.”

Cerna was inspired to step into this role after his experience as a former SEP student and then as a peer facilitator who led learning sessions for students once in his shoes.

“My favorite part of SEP is the interactions I have with students,” Cerna said. “Since SEP is a student success program, I’m surrounded by students and get to hear their successes, failures, frustrations, etc. This allows me to share my own experience with them and have insightful conversations.”

Biology senior Ayesha Qureshi also began her involvement with SEP when she took a workshop and saw increases in both her grades and learning.

“What I enjoy most about being a SEP tutor is the classroom environment that allows students to be successful,” Qureshi said. “There’s no pressure to ask questions, and everyone is willing to help so that students can understand the material.”

She then applied to be a tutor for organic chemistry one and two and is now helping students using her previous experiences.

“When students teach workshops, they are already familiar with the mistakes other students might make because they have firsthand experience with the class already,” Qureshi said. “(This) allows them to tailor their teaching methods to help students be successful.”

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