Why STEM needs a community to succeed

Zavala said students often have their doubts when thinking about their place in the discipline. Seeing people like them in the field provides inspiration, and constant motivation from professors is crucial.

“They start thinking ‘am I really smart enough?'” Zavala said. “‘Am I really going to do something incredible?'”

By building a close-knit and encouraging STEM community on campus, students can easily see that they can do something incredible, Hughes said. They’re able to see their peers get good jobs, showing them that there is a way.

Hrabowski also hammered home the importance of community, as well as connecting to the larger professional world of STEM off campus.

“It’s amazing what building a community and having them excited about solving real problems can do,” he said. “Helps them realize that what they are doing makes a difference. It becomes a possibility, then a reality.”

Hrabowski said it’s important to extend that sense of community across disciplines, too. UMBC tries to inject technology into its humanities education, and to inject humanities into its STEM education, he said.

“We don’t just want techy techies,” he said.

Hughes went even further, adding that all kinds of communities can help encourage students. It’s something he said he’s grateful to experience every time he returns to his small hometown in Florida.

“People say, ‘hey, you’re that boy who went to college, and who’s going to medical school,'” he said. “And it charges me up.”

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