UMass iCons: Women in Power
The Integrated Concentration in STEM (iCons) Program uproots expectations about what undergraduate students in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) and business are capable of achieving.
iCons brings the real world into the classroom with two goals in mind: preparing undergraduates for success after graduation and equipping them to change the world for the better. To do this, iCons asks students to tackle problems that have defied solution by even the world's foremost experts.
"To most students, pinning one's grade on solving a grand challenge would be terrifying," points out Scott Auerbach, chemistry professor and Mahoney Family sponsored executive director of the iCons program. iCons' methodology is designed to convert this learning environment from terrifying to fun through a unique blend of team-based learning, student-driven learning, and reflective learning.
In their solution-focused model, iCons encourages students to explore (with a moral compass) societal needs for practical applications of new technologies and research. "Research has shown that women tend to be attracted to STEM fields (like sustainability and biomedicine) that connect to solving societal problems," says Auerbach.
"We knew from the beginning that we need to bring the best of inclusive teaching and learning practices into iCons," says Auerbach. "We place human dignity front and center in the student learning experience," he explains. This enhances the experience for all students, especially for those who have felt dignity and opportunity lacking in their college classrooms and labs. "For women in STEM, that has been a major and persistent problem," Auerbach acknowledges. Due to its unique learning model and focus on societal issues, iCons nurtures the aspirations of women in science and engineering to make a difference in the world.
These iCons graduates have established important leadership roles in the clean energy and sustainability sectors. Auerbach taught most of them in his iCons Energy Communications course. "I've kept in touch with them over the years, so I know that they're lighting it up!"
Colleen Puzas '14
Professional wetland scientist Colleen Puzas was drawn to iCons' interdisciplinary, team-based approach. Describing it as "creative, knowledge-fostering, and hands-on," Puzas says iCons "stimulates students toward action." After graduation, Puzas—who majored in environmental science with minors in natural resources conservation and plant and soil science—worked as a consultant with different companies, mapping natural resource features and helping to permit large-scale solar energy facilities. Currently, she works as an environmental planner for POWER Engineers, where she also serves as liaison to the Boston Environmental Division Employee Engagement Committee and is an active member of POWER Women’s Network.
Deanna Kenyon '19
For environmental science major Deanna Kenyon, iCons "fostered a spirit of unapologetic, bold risk-taking" that has informed how she approaches both professional and personal spaces. "The intersection of being a woman in STEM, let alone an LGBTQ+ woman in STEM was overwhelming," remembers Kenyon, who didn't see members of the LGBTQ+ community represented in her field. Kenyon, now co-chair of Johnson Matthey's Pride employee resource group, credits iCons with empowering her to be her true self. Professionally, Kenyon says she "fell naturally into this trail-blazer role," joining the company's leadership program and completing rotations in Philadelphia, Savannah, Boston, and London.
Dylan Masi '17
As a first-year student, Dylan Masi was excited to hear about the iCons program's outside-the-box learning methods. "iCons had a greater emphasis on research and exploration than I got in my traditional engineering classes," recalls Masi, who majored in mechanical engineering. Masi established her career in the utility-scale renewable energy development industry. "I love knowing that I've made a quantifiable impact by helping put hundreds of megawatts of clean energy on the U.S. electric grid," Masi says. She flourishes in her current role as a preconstruction manager for Scout Clean Energy—where she is required to work with people focused on permitting, law, environment, and real estate—in part because iCons prepared her to work on cross-functional teams made up of people with different backgrounds and expertise.
Katharine Greco '16
After being inspired by Professor Auerbach's presentation on iCons during a weekend visit, Katharine Greco decided to enroll as a UMass Amherst student. She started in the program right away and says iCons supported her by providing opportunities to apply traditional classroom learning to the problems she cared about most: energy and climate change. "I also learned relevant skills, such as communication and critical thinking, that allowed me to excel in core classes," she says. Greco went on to earn a PhD in chemical engineering at MIT. She currently supports program development for funding clean energy technologies as a fellow at the Advanced Research Projects Agency at the U.S. Department of Energy.
Marinna Teixeira '16
"iCons was probably the most stable, structured opportunity that I pursued in college," says Teixeira, who majored in environmental science and minored in French. "I felt like I was part of a tight-knit community of like-minded individuals who were really passionate about what they were doing," she says and remembers feeling "invigorated and inspired" every time she left the classroom. After graduation, she landed a job at the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center's innovation and industry support division. Currently, she works as director of programs to bridge the gap between startups and large, established corporations at Greentown Labs, North America's largest climatetech incubator.