Student wants to diversify STEM with fellowship

Doctoral candidate is examining inclusion of minorities in field



Courtney Benjamin, a graduate student at WSU, is working to broaden participation in the STEM field. Benjamin was accepted into the CADRE fellowship on Sept. 29.

JAYCE CARRAL, Evergreen reporter

WSU graduate student Courtney Benjamin was granted the opportunity to join an academic fellowship to help further her research on social issues in STEM.

Benjamin, a Ph.D. candidate in cultural studies and social thought in education, was accepted into the Community for Advancing Discovery Research and Education (CADRE) on Sept. 29.

The fellowship is an intensive professional development opportunity that will take place from 2018-19, Benjamin said. The program began on Oct. 31 with an orientation based in Boston, Massachusetts, that continued until Nov. 2. While there, Benjamin met her nine fellow cohorts.

“I was incredibly overjoyed in my cohort,” she said.

Benjamin said she was nervous in the beginning since she is taking a critical view of STEM, trying to understand what it means to broaden participation in the field and how to actually encourage others to participate in it.

“I went [to Boston] understanding that I would have to have some armor on,” she said. “I quickly learned that I did not have to do that. There was not one person [in my cohort] who shied away when I said that we have to understand how structures of power keep people away from STEM.”

Benjamin said her peers also had an element of social justice and equity included in their STEM education research.

“We are all coming at STEM research differently,” she said. “All of us bonded really quickly.”

Benjamin’s research will focus on the definition of broadening participation in the field. She said she wants to understand where people of color and women are in STEM and how it will change with more diverse participation.

“My research [is on] critical pedagogy,” she said. “[This includes] looking at knowledge, power and identity in systems and structures that might be oppressive to certain populations. [I am] essentially taking a social equity and social justice look at STEM.”

Paula Groves Price, Benjamin’s adviser and dissertation chair, said Benjamin has the drive to succeed and thrive with help from the fellowship.

“[Benjamin’s] work is specifically interrogating the meaning of broadening participation from critical frameworks,” Groves Price wrote in an email. “She was perfect for this fellowship.”

Benjamin said she has been turning her anxiety into excitement. Her goal is to help support people whether they are in STEM or not, she said,

“[Receiving the fellowship] kind of makes me feel like this is a path that I am meant to be on,” Benjamin said. “I want to do as much good as I can possibly do with this.”