The University of New Mexico Global Education Office announced the creation of a first-of-its-kind international academy for undergraduate women in the Science, Technology, Engineering, Math and Architecture fields (STEM+A): The Innovation Academy for Women of the Americas (The Academy).

Its creative concept, which seeks to advance the academic and career pathways for women in the STEM+A fields through global exposure, focused research skills development and on-going mentorship and support has garnered a lot of attention, earning an endorsement in the form of a 100,000 Strong in the Americas grant for start-up scholarships for international participants.

Mavel M. Marina, international specialist within GEO and Academy co-founder, said, “The main intervention of The Academy is reaching women at a crucial moment in the pipeline to success in the STEM+A fields and providing them the support they need to obtain advanced education. The Academy will provide participants with the leadership skills and support to ascend to higher levels of influence in their professions and communities.” 

Central to the mission of The Academy is active recruitment and inclusion of indigenous women in the Americas into the STEM+A fields. Danielle Gilliam, GEO administrative officer and co-founder said, “The datasets available on women participating in the STEM+A fields in the Americas show low participation rates. Very little data exists on the participation of indigenous women, but our program seeks to create an international and sustainable platform, which recognizes the important talents and contributions of all women in the Americas.”

Mary Anne Saunders, special assistant to the president for global initiatives said, “UNM is an institution with many strengths in the STEM+A fields. This is an exciting opportunity to showcase our institutional talents and resources and demonstrate our commitment to global education and the advancement of women in the Americas.”

Receipt of the 100,000 Strong in the Americas grant provides an important platform for its future in the western hemisphere.

“UNM’s Innovation Academy for Women of the Americas grant proposal won high marks from the 100,000 Strong in the Americas Innovation Grant review committee because of two especially important elements,” said Lee Tablewski, director of the 100,000 Strong in the Americas Innovation Fund. “It focuses on transforming leadership potential into empowerment for women from the U.S. and Mexico. Unlike other traditional study abroad programs, UNM’s commitment to indigenous women, and providing opportunities for Academy graduates to join the university’s degree programs upon completion with scholarships, is a model we want to see succeed.  It has so much power for UNM, other countries and sister institutions.”

The Academy officially launches in the summer of 2016. Participants will undergo a rigorous application process, which requires endorsement of host institution faculty. The undergraduate participants will spend their time during the one-month program acquiring research skills and advancing their individual research topics, which will not only assist in the completion of their undergraduate degree, but prepare participants for graduate study. “A critical step in the advancement pipeline,” Marina said.

The Academy will include both international and domestic participants, facilitating global exposure and networking. In addition to the faculty support from the host institution, participants will be paired up with professional mentors who will provide inspirational one-on-one guidance and support. At the end of the program, participants will present their research accomplishments at a forum where UNM will award $100,000 in scholarships to top international participants.

Saunders said that the UNM scholarships align with the goals and objectives of the program to encourage more women to seek higher levels of education in their fields. “Attracting talented women in the STEM+A fields to continue their studies at UNM will also greatly benefit and enhance our classrooms as they will bring many diverse international experiences and perspectives to the UNM environment.”

 The Academy intends to sustain its momentum and connection to the participants even after the Academy ends.

“Once our participants leave The Academy, we want them to continue to engage with one another, build a sense of community and utilize their professional mentors when they need guidance,” Gilliam said. “Through an online, innovative platform designed by The Academy participants and continuous faculty and professional mentor participation we intend to sustain encouragement so that these young ladies feel supported when they go back home.”

UNM is partnering with two institutions in Mexico, who will duplicate The Academy program model. This mobile method allows partners to showcase their strengths and expand the reach of The Academy into the Americas. The initiative is supported by UNM’s office in Mexico City - The New Mexico Trade & Higher Education Center.

Saunders said this program comes at an important time in international education, when the U.S., Mexico and countries within the Americas are increasing attention on bilateral mobility in the continent. For example, President Barack Obama and President Enrique Peña Nieto launched the U.S.-Mexico Bilateral Forum on Higher Education, Innovation and Research (FOBESII) in May of 2013 to expand opportunities for educational exchanges, scientific research partnerships and cross-border innovation. Under FOBESII, both the U.S. and Mexico created initiatives to support this focus,100,000 Strong in the Americas and Proyecta Cien Mil, respectively.

As The Academy begins its operations in preparation for next summer, members of the UNM community and beyond can participate in the initiative through sponsoring events and workshops or direct participation as a faculty mentor or professional mentor. GEO will provide UNM faculty and professionals in the STEM+A fields information regarding The Academy’s mission this summer, and will continue to seek financial sponsorship for not only its first year of operations, but subsequent years.

“Sponsorship goes a long way to reduce program cost for participants – that’s our focus and it is needed,” Gilliam said. “The 100,000 Strong Grant is only for one year, but we are optimistic that a program of this kind – which does not exist anywhere else in the world – will continue to attract the interest of others who believe in this important mission.”