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Inspiring Programs in STEM: WSSU wins two national awards

WSSU students (from left) Eneyda Hernandez-Hinojosa and Lauryn Hall participate in an experiment in the chemistry lab in the F.L. Atkinson Sciences Building.

Winston-Salem State University (WSSU) has been recognized nationally for two initiatives that are helping to bridge the gender gap in science, math, technology and engineering fields.

WSSU’s Girls Empowered in Math and Science (GEMS) and Women in Science Program (WISP) each have received the 2018 Inspiring Programs in STEM Award from INSIGHT Into Diversity magazine. The national award honors colleges and universities that encourage and assist students from underrepresented groups to enter the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).

“Despite recent gains, women – especially minority women – continue to be significantly underrepresented in STEM fields,” said Dr. Anthony Graham, WSSU’s provost. “Through these two innovative and successful programs, WSSU’s faculty are fostering a culture that supports the academic success of young female scholars and helps to inspire the next generations of female STEM leaders.”According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, women hold only 24 percent of STEM jobs in the United States. 

The two programs will be featured, along with 75 other recipients, in the September 2018 issue of INSIGHT Into Diversity magazine, the largest and oldest diversity and inclusion publication in higher education.

WSSU is one of only six college or universities to win multiple 2018 awards.

Women in Science Program (WISP)

WISP provides an environment for female students at WSSU thrive in STEM.

Since WISP was founded by the Department of Biological Sciences in 2011, about 175 WSSU undergraduate students have participated in the program across various STEM majors. The program provides students with mentorship, early hands-on research experience, and access to information and service projects.

One unique part of WISP is the small group sessions that are offered, said Dr. Stephanie Dance-Barnes, interim dean of University College and Lifelong Learning (UCaLL) and founder of WISP.

“Faculty mentors provide opportunities for students to design their WSSU experience in a way that better prepares them intellectually, socially and personally,” she said.

WISP also is helping to create a culture of STEM on and off-campus, Dance-Barnes said. Each year, WISP undergraduates serve as science mentors for K-12 students at Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools. Students also serve as STEM leaders on campus through forums that address alternative careers in STEM.

Students who are interested in WISP may contact Dance-Barnes at 336-750-3237 or

Girls Empowered in Math and Science (GEMS)

GEMS, founded in 2009, is a math and science academy for fourth- through seventh-grade girls that was developed by Dr. Denise Johnson, associate professor of education at WSSU.

About 60 girls participate annually in two GEMS tracks: a Saturday Academy that meets once per month during the school year, and a weeklong summer program.

Each track aligns with the North Carolina Middle School Mathematics and Science Common Core State Standards. Topics include: engineering, environment science, computer design and robotics.

The program is open to all girls in Forsyth County and is sponsored by WSSU’s Department of Education, Urban Action Community Development and American Communities Trust. Students within the Department of Education serve as program mentors.

GEMS alumni include: Paige Woods, who earned a master’s degree from Oxford University, and Nikki Westmoreland, a WS/FCS teacher.

For more information on GEMS, please visit the WSSU GEMS website or contact Johnson at 336-750-2708.

Inspiring Programs in STEM Award winners were selected by INSIGHT Into Diversity based on efforts to inspire and encourage a new generation of young people to consider careers in STEM through mentoring, teaching, research, and successful programs and initiatives.

“We know that many STEM programs are not always recognized for their success, dedication, and mentorship for underrepresented students,” says Lenore Pearlstein, owner and publisher of INSIGHT Into Diversity magazine. “We want to honor the schools and organizations that have created programs that inspire and encourage young people who may currently be in or are interested in a future career in STEM. We are proud to honor these programs as role models to other institutions of higher education and beyond.”

About Winston-Salem State University
Winston-Salem State University fosters the creative thinking, analytical problem-solving, and depth of character needed to transform the world. Rooted in liberal education, WSSU’s curriculum prepares students to be thought leaders who have the skills and knowledge needed to develop innovative solutions to complex problems. Founded in 1892, WSSU is a historically Black constituent institution of the University of North Carolina with a rich tradition of contributing to the social, cultural, intellectual, and economic growth of North Carolina, the region and beyond. Guided by the motto, “Enter to Learn, Depart to Serve,” WSSU develops leaders who advance social justice by serving the world with compassion and commitment.

Participants in the GEMS program meet with Ann Vaughan Hammond and Peggy Vaughan, the daughter and daughter-in-law of Dorothy Vaughan from the film “Hidden Figures.” (WSSU file photo, December 2017)

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