Building connections and support for underrepresented STEM students: remembering Anne Hornickel Yuska

Thursday, August 27, 2020 - 5:00am

This year, the University of Minnesota lost one of its biggest champions of STEM education for underrepresented students. Anne Hornickel Yuska passed away on April 30, just months after her retirement. For more than 12 years, Yuska led the North Star STEM Alliance, the Minnesota branch of the National Science Foundation’s Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation, which aims to double the number of underrepresented graduates in STEM fields.

As director, she significantly increased the number of students enrolled in the Alliance, creating networking, mentorship, research, and professional development opportunities statewide.

A passion for the work, and the people

Yuska had a deep commitment to the students she served and was dedicated to building relationships with them that extended well beyond their time in the Alliance. 

“Students who graduated from the Alliance often reached out to Anne to share their successes and how much they valued her support and guidance,” recalls Keisha Varma, associate vice provost in the U’s Office of Equity and Diversity. “She led this expansive alliance, and somehow also managed to create rich, personal relationships that truly made a difference in students’ lives.” 

Yuska also brought a personal touch to her work with Alliance faculty, Varma adds. “One of my fondest memories is of her leading a series of Alliance meetings with partners from all over Minnesota...when we were having dessert, we discovered that she had made the pies and treats from scratch for these meetings. She also made a huge effort to make sure that all of the food was locally sourced and seasonal, and that these gatherings were zero-waste events. She did everything so passionately, so fully.”

A legacy of growth

Today, the North Star STEM Alliance is positioned for continued success due in large part to Yuska’s leadership. 

Students enrolled through the U and the Alliance’s 13 other partner institutions steadily increased during Yuska’s tenure, rising by at least 50% over the last five years with total participants reaching 400 by the end of the 2019–2020 academic year. 

With funding from 3M, Yuska also played a key role in increasing the number of Alliance participants who are transfer students.

Today’s North Star STEM Alliance

Today, the North Star STEM Alliance’s new director, Rebecca Fabunmi, is building on Yuska’s work while also making crucial changes in light of the global pandemic. 

In particular, Fabunmi has been laser-focused on increasing opportunities for transfer students to participate in the Alliance. This includes hosting a virtual event, called the STEM Deep Dive Series, designed specifically for participants from two-year institutions who aspire to transfer to University. 

Fabunmi has also led the Alliance’s shift to offering all activities virtually—from office hours and panels, to research labs. This summer, for example, the Alliance’s introductory summer research program, Tiny Earth, was held online. What’s more, instructors shifted the focus of this summer’s Tiny Earth from antibiotic resistance to COVID-19. This gave students the chance to  analyze the incidence, distribution, and control of infectious disease, and to design their own epidemiological studies. 

While the Alliance will need to be flexible in how it reaches students going forward, it’s likely that most programming will remain virtual throughout the next academic year. But that isn’t necessarily a bad thing, says Varma, “Because we’re so virtual now, it makes it easier for students from other campuses and institutions to participate. We’re really trying to leverage this moment.” 

"It is an honor and privilege to assist in increasing the quality and quantity of students who are triumphantly completing STEM bachelor’s degrees, while also increasing the number interested in and being accepted into STEM graduate programs,” adds Fabunmi. "Together we will further Ms. Yuska’s legacy by working with our STEM colleagues, mentors, professionals, institutions, and industries in developing innovative and transformational opportunities, programming, and academic infrastructure that prepares our students for amazing careers."

Photo credit University of Minnesota

By the numbers, North Star STEM Alliance

  • 17 Minnesota colleges, universities, and community organizations in the Alliance
  • 351 students enrolled through the U in 2019–2020, including 80 transfer students
  • 62 undergraduate researchers in 2019–2020
  • 50% increase in students from 2015 to 2020

Key

CSE-College of Science and Engineering

CSOM-Carlson School of Management

DENT-School of Dentistry

ICA-Intercollegiate Athletics

OED-Office of Equity and Diversity

STEM-Science, Technology, Engineering, Math

UMMCH-M Health Fairview University of Minnesota Masonic Children's Hospital