FEBRUARY 28, 2022 — UTSA Vice Provost for Graduate Studies and Dean of the UTSA Graduate School Ambika Mathur and her husband, Deepak Kamat, have donated $20,000 to the Prefreshman Engineering Program (PREP), a pre-college summer program that increases participation among traditionally underrepresented middle and high school students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).
Upon its founding in 1979 by UTSA mathematics professor Manuel P. Berriozábal, PREP was a trailblazing initiative that encouraged students, particularly minority and female students, to pursue careers in STEM fields. The first PREP summer program launched in San Antonio with 50 students. More than 40 years later, the program exists at more than 125 school districts across Texas as well as school districts in California, Utah, New Mexico, Arizona and Idaho.
PREP has served over 50,000 Texas students alone during the past 40 years, with more than 65% of participants identifying as Hispanic and 53% as female. Serving as a national model for providing high-quality, low-cost STEM education and college preparation, the PREP program received national recognition as a Bright Spot in Hispanic Education in 2015 by the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics.
Increasing participation in the STEM fields among students who are often overlooked has been a long-time mission for Mathur and Kamat. Their donation will help fund guest speakers in area classrooms and other educational activities to advance the annual STEM program.
By expanding equitable access and participation in innovative STEM programming, PREP is key to motivating and inspiring middle and high school students to these fields, and promoting collaboration between institutions of higher education, school districts, industry and the community. The focus on underrepresented middle-school students is important to Mathur, who said this is when many students begin to lose interest in or be discouraged from pursuing opportunities in the science and math fields.
“Pipeline programs such as PREP are not only integral to the future of our community in terms of personal and scientific advancement but also for enriching civic life and engagement. This generous contribution from Mathur and Kamat will make it possible to create turning points or pivotal experiences that spark curiosity and a passion to explore within children who have the greatest needs,” said Mario Torres, dean of the UTSA College of Education and Human Development. “PREP has long been a transformative force in our local communities. This gift will help sustain that legacy.”
Mathur’s career has been driven by a commitment to increasing diversity within STEM, both in terms of population and subject matter. As the dean of the graduate school and associate provost for the Office of Scientific Training, Workforce Development and Diversity at Wayne State University in Detroit, Mathur became the founding director of the university’s new combined M.D./Ph.D. program. While there, she encouraged students to earn their doctoral degrees in a variety of subjects from physics to music. The ultimate goal of all this work is to expand interest in and access to STEM education among members of underrepresented communities.
“The more students we get from various communities, the bigger the impact,” Mathur explained. “Who knows better how to serve the population than the people who have grown up in the community itself?”
These are the students, Mathur added, who will apply their personal experiences to solve the challenges and address the needs of their respective neighborhoods.
Mathur also cited the importance of science education in the life of an individual. From climate policy to everyday decisions during a pandemic, she said that understanding basic scientific concepts empowers people to make their own informed decisions.
“Be a voice in the decision making,” Mathur said, “so you’re not letting somebody else dictate to you what you should be doing but acting based on your own knowledge.”
When it comes to engaging individuals and communities of San Antonio, Mathur said UTSA has a unique opportunity.
“San Antonio has such a rich history of bringing students together to improve the future of everybody in the community. To use a cliché: ‘Nobody’s left behind,’” she said. “Why not increase the representation of students within STEM who may not have had access to such opportunities, especially since UTSA just became a Tier One university? We clearly are there at the cutting edge.”
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