Pathways to Science Camp Opens Doors to STEM for Latina Students

News Story categories: Biology
Tanya Sancen ‘24 instructs high schooler Rashelle Guzman on a cryostat machine during a Pathways to Science session exploring her SURF research.

Inside a Copley Science Center lab on the morning of June 29, Tanya Sancen ’24 carefully explained how to use a cryostat machine to Falls Church High School student Rashelle Guzman, as the pair examined frozen tissue from the brain of a mouse.

This hands-on lab experience was a session of Pathways to Science, an on-campus summer program that has encouraged Latina high school students to pursue opportunities in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) since 2017.

“We were so happy to welcome 20 returning campers and 11 new campers to Randolph-Macon for the seventh year of Pathways to Science!” reflected April Marchetti ‘97, the Garnett-Lambert Professor of Chemistry who has served as Pathways to Science Director since its inception. “This program demonstrates Randolph-Macon’s commitment to encouraging equity in education and to leveling the playing field for Latinas in STEM.”

For Sancen, who is in her third summer as a Pathways to Science counselor, the experience is a full-circle moment; she was an original participant in the program. The strong support she received from her Pathways mentors while in high school helped guide her decision to attend RMC.

“It made a huge impact on my life to see that they made it here, and I can make it here too,” said Sancen, a Spotsylvania, Va., native and the first woman in her family to go to college. She is just one of many success stories for the Pathways to Science program.

Pathways to Science students explore plants and pollinators in the Brian Wesley Moores Native Plant Garden.

“Throughout the history of Pathways, we have served 92 young women, all of whom have successfully graduated from high school on time and 90% of whom have committed to pursue post-high school education,” Marchetti said. “This program is changing the lives of these young women, and we are proud of it!”

Now a rising senior at RMC, the work that Sancen was guiding Guzman through is part of her Schapiro Undergraduate Research Fellowship (or SURF) project with biology professor Kimberly Cox. The work examines gene expression in mice in response to exposure to pups, and how that impacts maternal behavior. Exposure to these ongoing SURF research projects was part of the itinerary for all returning Pathways students, of which Guzman is one. 

In addition to learning about and participating in research projects like Sancen’s, the program offered a wide range of STEM activities for its Latina learners, who were immersed in the college experience while staying in dorms on campus. The students explored plants and pollinators in RMC’s Brian Wesley Moores Native Plant Garden, and studied comets and weather inside Keeble Observatory. The students also received guidance and mentoring on skills that will help them succeed in their academic careers.

Sancen, whose post-graduation plans involve attending medical school, ultimately values the opportunity to be the same kind of role model that inspired her own path to RMC.

“I think it’s really important for Latinas to be able to see themselves in these settings, in laboratories and higher education,” Sancen said. “That can be really impactful for them.”