As companies pledge to make their workforces more diverse, there still remains much more to be done, especially in the field of STEM – science, technology, engineering, and math – which is projected to grow faster than other occupations and the need for workers is already critical.
A Pew Research report finds uneven progress in diversifying STEM fields. It reports that while Hispanics make up 17% of employed adults, they represent only 8% of STEM workers. Blacks, according to the report, make up 9% of STEM workers, but make up 11% of employed adults. That uneven playing field in STEM fields is driving one Latina entrepreneur to work to close that diversity gap by securing opportunities in higher education.
Last year, María Fernanda Trochimezuk launched IOScholarships, a platform connecting underrepresented students to STEM scholarships for undergraduate, graduate, and postgraduate education. “I want to level the playing field so all diverse students can go to college and pursue these careers that are the highest paying careers in the market.” says Trochimezuk. “The scholarships are the gateway for students to be part of the STEM pipeline,” she adds.
Trochimezuk says the platform has access to over $48 million dollars in funding for Hispanic American, African American, American Indian/Alaska Native, and Asian Pacific Islander students. Most of that funding comes from private sources such as corporations and nonprofit organizations.
$100M in Untapped Scholarship Money
Trochimezuk’s passion to help underrepresented students stems from her own experience. A native of Argentina, Trochimezuk says her family could not afford to send her to private schools. She was able to pay for her postgraduate education thanks to a scholarship at the University of California Santa Barbara and she was selected from a pool of national candidates to be part of the Stanford Latino Entrepreneurship Initiative in 2018.
She says when she learned that an estimated $100 million in scholarships go unawarded each year, she saw an opportunity to help students. “I believe education shouldn’t be a privilege. Education should be available for all. I always say the only way that an economy can be sustainable and successful is breaking the cycle of poverty. And the only way you can do that is access to education,” adds Trochimezuk.
One big reason why so much scholarship money goes untapped, says Trochimezuk, is because of a lack of awareness, something she’s trying to fix with IOScholarships. Students can sign up on the platform at no cost, fill out a profile, and begin searching for scholarship money that matches their profile. Students apply directly to scholarships from various organizations and corporations.
To date, more than 11,000 students have used the platform which partners with the National Scholarship Providers Association. Trochimezuk encourages students to approach scholarship money as a part-time job. “I always tell students if you invest 10 hours in a $10,000 dollar scholarship, and you win it, that’s $1,000 per hour. That’s a very good investment. That’s a very good hourly rate.”
Avoiding More Student Loan Debt
21-year-old Alyssa Garbarino says she is discovering new resources she never knew existed as she begins to apply for postgraduate money using IOScholarships. She is a biology major at California State University Channel Island, president of the CI Neuroscience Society, and has volunteered hundreds of hours at hospitals with the goal of attending medical school in the future. However, she is wary of taking on more student loans.
As the first generation in her family to attend a university, Garbarino says her parents did not know how to navigate the tuition. “I got to the point where I was a freshman in college and I didn’t know how or where to find scholarships and I ended up incurring a lot of loan debt,” she explains. “It’s kind of intimidating to look into the future and try to plan your finances. I’m very grateful that I have new resources.”
Those resources also include financial education for students. Trochimezuk says it’s all part of a goal to connect with students and to provide more than just a scholarship database. “I want to be a community where all these students feel heard and seen, and they feel a sense of belonging. I want to connect with them.”
One of the ways she plans to connect with students is through a podcast, sharing stories of students entering the STEM field.
“I speak on a daily basis with students now attending MIT and Stanford and the key is really to give the hope to other students that they see it’s possible when they see themselves represented with that student that is going to MIT,” says Trochimezuk.
And for Garbarino, sharing those experiences is making a difference. “Just to see that these women of color are doing things in engineering and changing the world as we know it, that’s really encouraging to see.”