Giving Back to Make STEM More Accessible

by | Apr 10, 2017 | Alumni Profiles, Spring 2017

Rubecca Martinez Dalton ’06 was first introduced to Colorado School of Mines when she visited the Geology Museum in the third grade, but it wasn’t until she entered high school that she was introduced to the possibility of a career in engineering.

For three summers, Dalton participated in Metropolitan State University’s Denver Prep Program, where high school students could take math classes that were designed like college courses. She said the professors she learned from described math as a subject that anyone is capable of studying and creates an even playing field for all students. “Before that,” Dalton said, “engineering was never on my radar. When you come from a school like North High School, which wasn’t a very good school at the time, and of course, I’m female and Hispanic, there are a lot of people who tell you that those are disadvantages. So to have two professors say that math is a great equalizer, that is so empowering. All that mattered was if you could do the math.”

Dalton decided she wanted to pursue engineering and chose Mines for the typical reasons students want to attend Mines: the small campus, the welcoming community and the lure of the outdoors. But a less typical reason Mines appealed to her was that the school didn’t charge a fee to apply. Not having to pay an application fee made it more accessible for her to pursue her dreams, she said. And now as she has established her career as a welding engineer, Dalton wants to pay it forward and help other women have the same opportunities and exposure to STEM as she did.

“My mom is a high school teacher, and she has a lot of students who are really talented and interested in STEM,” she said. “There are a lot of good programs out there, but some of these kids can’t afford an extra $5 a week, much less a $30 application fee or a $100 registration fee.” Knowing how much her introduction to STEM meant to her, Dalton said she had always envisioned creating a scholarship program to help young students learn more about engineering and science. “It’s always been on my list,” she said.

Dalton chose to start with a program close to home. She decided to sponsor nine high school girls to attend the Girls Lead the Way conference, organized by the Mines student section of the Society of Women Engineers, which guides young girls into STEM fields. “As a former Mines student who greatly benefitted from programs like this while in high school, I wanted to offer some students who may not have been able to afford the $30 registration fee a chance to attend as well,” she said.

She explained that the best way to give back was to start small. “I realized that I don’t need to wait until I have $100,000 or until I have a huge corporation or charity,” she said. “I could just do something small that I could afford right now. Maybe it’s only a few girls right now, but it might do something big for those girls.”

Dalton sent out some emails to friends she thought might be interested in helping sponsor these students and quickly was able to pull together some funds. “Instead of saying that I can’t help these girls until I do something big, I changed my mindset to do something small first,” she said. “That was really the thinking behind it: what can I do right now?”

Dalton says that programs like this are really just the first step in helping more women enter engineering and science professions. “Engineering is a really good place—there are a lot of talented women coming up in the ranks, and it’s so inspiring to see,” Dalton said. “Giving high school girls access to a mentor program and normalizing that there are women in the field is really a step in the right direction.”