Millennium Scholars ready to change the future of STEM fields

David Kubarek
October 25, 2018

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Alisha Wellington grew up in Philadelphia with a passion for meteorology. She saw plenty of people like her in broadcasting but found few role models doing what she wanted to do: weather research.

She did find the Millennium Scholars program, an initiative supported by the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences (EMS) that’s tasked with improving diversity in STEM fields. It’s designed to help people like Wellington form a path to a doctorate and to make connections with those who have blazed trails before her.  

“I wasn’t really exposed to research but now I’m able to see what research entails and what I can get involved in,” said Wellington, a first-year student majoring in meteorology and atmospheric sciences at Penn State.

Meet our Millennium Scholars

The College of Earth and Mineral Sciences (EMS) will be raising money to support the Millennium Scholars program on Giving Tuesday, slated to begin at 6:55 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 26, and lasting through 11:59 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 27, 2018.  

Ana Isabel De La Fuente Duran, a junior majoring in materials science and engineering (MatSE) at Penn State and a member of EMS’ inaugural Millennium Scholars cohort, said she often walks into a crowded room of experts and is approached by the lone woman in the group.

As a Hispanic woman, she said she wants to be that woman in the crowd who shows the way for people after her.

“If I had seen someone like me doing something that I’m interested in when I was younger, it might have influenced me to follow this path earlier,” De La Fuente Duran said. “That’s why I think the program is important. It gave me a way to get involved in the things I want to be involved in. And, through that, my involvement can help younger people.”

She’s accomplished much in three years in the Millennium Scholars program. She began research in 2D thin film just days into her first semester at Penn State. She’s attended conferences and just recently spoke to a Bryce Jordan Center crowd of 1,200 about the doors the program has opened for her.

De La Fuente Duran is on pace to earn her undergraduate degree with little debt, thanks to the scholarship offered through the Millennium Scholars program, and with many connections — including several gained during research opportunities at Stanford University — as she looks for graduate school opportunities.

Hispanic women represent just 2 percent of the science and engineering labor force, according to the National Science Foundation. The rates are similar for black men, 3 percent; black women, 2 percent and Hispanic men, 4 percent.

Donovan Moses, a sophomore majoring in MatSE, wants to change that. He said the program is putting him on a path to doing so.

“This program is very important because it gives capable students the opportunity to come to a good school with a good scholarship,” Moses said. “There are mentors and people who guide you through every aspect of college and even life after college.”

As an African-American, Moses said he wants to bring a different way of thinking about problems to his field and serve as a role model for others. He’s engaged in research with Susan Trolier-Mckinstry, professor of ceramic science and engineering, and completed a Research Experience for Undergraduates opportunity at the University of Texas at Austin.

Angelina Santamaria’s family is from Nicaragua, and the dangers her family faces due to volcanoes is something that drives her passion for geosciences and physics.

Already, the first-year student said being a Millennium Scholar is opening doors for her.

The summer bridge program, which readies incoming students for the rigors of college, pushed her and helped her become a better student. It also paired her with her peers, leading to camaraderie and study partners.

She’s surrounded by people with diverse backgrounds yet similar interests: achieving success in STEM fields and laying out a path for others to do the same.

“I think if you want to see a change you have to educate the next generation to bring on that change,” Santamaria said. “I know that it’s going to be difficult in the field joining a community that is not traditionally diverse. But it’s important to remember that when times are difficult for me I am blazing a path for a younger generation and other women and people of color who want to be in science and want those opportunities.”

The College of EMS will be raising money to support the Millennium Scholars program on Giving Tuesday, slated to begin at 6:55 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 26, and lasting through 11:59 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 27. To give, visit

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated December 11, 2018