GEM provides paths to advanced STEM degrees

Dr. Marcus Huggans from the National GEM Consortium and Dianne Engram with former and current GEM interns. From left: Marcus Huggans, Elmie Peoples, Miguel Nuñez, Bianca Brandveen, Maurice Ball and Dianne Engram. Photo: Reidar Hahn

Since the late 1970s, the National GEM Consortium has provided opportunities for African American, Hispanic and Native American graduate students seeking non-academic careers in science and engineering. Fermilab has been a part of these efforts almost since the beginning.

The Consortium is a partnership among more than 50 American companies and national laboratories and 100 universities to promote graduate degrees among these demographic groups, which have historically been underrepresented in science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields.

“For Fermilab, the program is designed to provide a pipeline of candidates for full-time employment,” said Dianne Engram, manager of Fermilab’s Equal Opportunity Office, who holds a position on GEM’s executive committee.

Through GEM fellowships, participating universities pay the full tuition for a graduate degree and companies select the fellows as interns. Throughout the consortium’s history, more than 3,000 students have been named GEM fellows.

The internship gives companies such as Fermi Research Alliance an opportunity to assess the sponsored students and provide work experiences that enhance the student’s understanding of their chosen field. The students go through two such internships, one in the summer between their final undergraduate year and their first semester of graduate school and another after the first year of graduate school.

“Without the GEM program I wouldn’t be in grad school right now – I couldn’t afford it otherwise,” said Bianca Brandveen, Fermilab’s current GEM fellow, who is getting her master’s degree in mechanical engineering at the University of Maryland – College Park. “GEM is an invaluable resource for minority students who want to pursue graduate degrees in STEM fields.” Brandveen is currently in her second internship at Fermilab.

Brandveen, who will present her work at Fermilab at GEM’s Annual Board Meeting and Conference in San Francisco in August, said it’s also important for her to give back, so she has been participating in recruiting potential GEM fellows.

“It’s not just something I want on my résumé,” she said. “I truly enjoy giving back to people and teaching them what I learned when I was their age.”

Fermilab currently employs four previous GEM fellows. A fifth is due to start next month, Engram said.

“We want boots-on-the-ground work,” she said. “Our goal is to increase our number of master’s-trained professionals at Fermilab, and as long as the fellows are working in a STEM profession, the program is a success.”

—Joseph Piergrossi