STEM minority students find support, giving opportunities

By Erik Gomez, intern, Voiland College of Engineering and Architecture

Strategically looking for answers, Ramiro Gonzalez gazes across his table that lies covered in papers, a ruler, textbooks, different colored pens and a cup of tea. It’s a daily routine, as he waits for someone to help.

Ramiro Gonzalez, a junior Washington State University mechanical engineer major, is a Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (LSAMP) program mentor. While he waits for someone to walk into the LSAMP center seeking help, he remembers what it was like being on the other side. Gonzalez has been helped by programs like LSAMP since he was 13 years old.

Help during a difficult time

Gonzalez grew up in Sunnyside, Wash., at a time when the town was trying to fix its gang problem. The town enforced a curfew and the middle school started offering more outreach programs for disadvantaged students.

“I don’t think I would have continued toward a college education if it weren’t for these programs,” he said.

The first outreach program Gonzalez was involved with was Tech Reach, a program designed to introduce middle schoolers to engineering.

“I remember asking the advisor if doing things like the stuff we were learning could be a job,” Gonzalez said. “He replied ‘yeah, it’s called being an engineer.’ He said to be an engineer you have to be good at math, so I made sure I got better at it.”

Entering high school, things got tougher as many of his friends and classmates dropped out. Fortunately, he found classes and activities that fostered his interest in engineering, including the robotics club and Technology student Association. They also gave him the drive to pursue his education.

“These clubs exposed me to something different, to something I was interested in,” he said.

As a freshman, Gonzalez was accepted into WSU’s Washington STate Academic RedShirt (STARS) program, which provides incoming engineering students the tools and math skills to succeed in the field. The program targets need-based students who have demonstrated talent and interest in engineering and computer science, but have not been given the opportunity to properly prepare for the demands of such a field.

Inclusive and welcoming

Through the STARS program, Gonzalez was introduced to LSAMP, a National Science Foundation-funded program aimed at increasing the recruitment, retention and graduation rates of underrepresented students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

“It is a very inclusive and welcoming program. It’s a great place to get tutoring and advice for future classes because you get to meet and talk with upper-level students,” Gonzalez said. “I have met a lot of people and have made a lot of friends through LSAMP.”

Connecting students to their goals

Yadira Paredes, WSU’s LSAMP director, believes mentors are essential to their mentees’ success.

“These majors are tough stuff,” Paredes said. “The students need the help, the funding, the support, the mentorship and the encouragement to get through it. We are trying to connect students to their goals and dreams through mentorship and cutting-edge opportunities.”

LSAMP participants receive academic advising, professional development workshops and faculty-student mentoring. They also get the opportunity to tackle real world projects and interact with professionals in the field.

Research opportunities

In October 2015, Gonzalez was paired with Soumik Banerjee, an assistant professor in the School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering, to help model lithium-sulfur batteries.

Theoretically, these batteries have high power capacities and energy densities, making them ideal for electric vehicles. A typical battery can go several thousand cycles before losing power potential. Unfortunately, after a few hundred cycles of use, the batteries’ power output dramatically drops. Banerjee’s team used computer modeling to test possible support materials to alleviate the issue.

“This was my first research experience and I would not have had this opportunity had it not been for the LSAMP program.”

Ramiro Gonzalez mentors student at LSAMP Center
Ramiro Gonzalez mentors student at LSAMP Center

Giving back

After receiving help much of his life by outreach programs, Gonzalez decided to give back. At the beginning of his junior year, he was accepted to be an LSAMP mentor. As a mentor, Gonzalez helps connect 11 mentees to resources and research opportunities, while providing advice and tutoring hours throughout the week.

“I like helping people out,” Gonzalez said. “I like watching others succeed. It’s exciting seeing someone figuring out a problem.”

Adrian Urias, a fellow mechanical engineering major, frequently uses the LSAMP center, especially before big exams.
“Ramiro has stayed past midnight helping me out before exams,” Urias said. “He is always willing to help me no matter the workload he has through his own classes.”

“I spend a lot of my free time in the LSAMP center. I really like the people here, many of them are my friends,” Gonzalez said. “This community is really friendly. If you walk in, you will be greeted by someone.”

Gonzalez plans to work in the automotive industry working in design for a few years. Eventually, he wants to start his own engineering firm to work with communities and help expose youth to engineering.


Note: The LSAMP program at Washington State University serves as a support system for all underrepresented minority students with an interest in STEM. To learn more about LSAMP, receive free tutoring, and find out if you qualify for a LSAMP research stipend, visit