Photographs courtesy of the Haynes Scholars Residential Learning Community
Diversity Equity and Inclusion

Connections STEM from community

Residential learning program supports first-year STEM majors

The Haynes Scholars Residential Learning Community offers first-year STEM majors who identify as part of an underrepresented group a place to grow and thrive at JMU. 

The scholars live together in or near Hoffman Hall, where they create meaningful connections with other like-minded students, and develop skills to succeed in their science, technology, engineering and math courses.

To Jada White, a sophomore Engineering major, the community provides a network of student support. The program is a “space for minorities in STEM to come together. It helped me establish myself at JMU,” she said. 

For many Haynes Scholars, a diverse group of education-driven people with bright futures, the program brings an element of inclusivity to what is regarded as a predominantly white university. 

“It’s something I think JMU needed,” White said. “It gives something to an underrepresented community directly. It shows JMU is also paying attention to the minority groups at the university.” 

Transitioning into a four-university can be a daunting change for underrepresented students, who might not feel as welcome and included as their white peers. The Haynes Scholars community helps these students feel seen, heard and represented.

“Haynes guarantees you will have that community of peers from the beginning,” said Jasmine White, Jada’s twin sister and fellow Haynes Scholar in the Engineering program. “It helped me get out of my shell, because I was quickly exposed to people with different backgrounds.” 

Haynes Scholars live together in or near Hoffman Hall while taking Calculus classes in cohorts, and making student and faculty connections that help them become leaders in their departments.

In addition to an inclusive living environment, students are given research opportunities in their respective STEM departments that allow them to be mentored by faculty members and expand their academic experiences. Students have direct access to resources like technology, labs and research facilities.

“It was great to get research experience in a guided way,” Jasmine White said. “They also provided us with tutors and mentors, which was a big help.” 

Perhaps the most exciting aspect of the Haynes Scholars program is the opportunity for students to participate in research as first-year students. Early experience with lab work and presentations helps further progress toward their degrees, as well as post-graduate studies. 

Additionally, students can meet with scientists and mathematicians of color as part of the Haynes Seminar. The seminar course provides a hands-on exploration of science and mathematics. In Spring 2022, 11 Haynes Scholars traveled to the Virginia State University Annual Undergraduate Research Conference/Symposia to share their work. It’s an example of providing an opportunity to dedicated Dukes eager to make their mark in STEM.

In the 2022-23 academic year, the newest cohort of Haynes Scholars will work with professors Minah Oh and Roger Thelwell to gain programming skills to supplement material learned in their STEM courses. Students will be able to apply these skills to real-world scenarios, including optics and biomedical engineering. 

Beth Arnold and Laura Taalman, the founders and directors of the Haynes Scholars program, are passionate about it. As faculty members in the Department of Mathematics and Statistics, they were also the teaching/research team for the 2021-22 cohort of scholars. This team will rotate to different faculty in the department each year. 

Engineering majors Jasmine and Jada White (front row, left) attended the Haynes picnic. The 2021-22 program welcomed 17 first-year STEM majors in the College of Science and Mathematics and the College of Integrated Science and Engineering.

Arnold and Taalman will continue directing the program in the fall while seeking new fundraising opportunities. They hope to acquire grants and donations to assist Haynes Scholars struggling to pay for summer courses and textbooks.They are excited about the future of the program, including a partnership with JMU’s Center for Creative Propulsion. The entities will begin sharing a physical space in Roop Hall in the fall. They look forward to having a designated location for the scholars to relax and build connections, as well as interact with the equipment, use computers, and hold events and seminars. 

“The Haynes Scholars program is really about community, and having a dedicated space will strengthen that community,” Arnold said.

“The Haynes Scholars program is really about community, and having a dedicated space will strengthen that community.”
Beth Arnold, professor of Mathematics & Statistics and co-founder of the Haynes Scholars Residential Learning Community

The program also will continue partnering with the JMU Experimental Mathematics Lab to provide opportunities to explore projects that incorporate computing, digital fabrication and 3D printing. 

Prospective STEM students are encouraged to explore what the Haynes Scholars community has to offer. Being a part of an inclusive residential learning community is what makes students like Jasmine White feel “welcome and more comfortable” during their transition to JMU.

The program is looking for students who are passionate about living in a supportive community for people of color, and are interested in taking calculus classes in cohorts and participating in a one-year exploratory mathematics research seminar. By helping students find their place on campus and connecting them with academic opportunities, the initiative supports student success in myriad ways. 

“We will continue to work with JMU Admissions to recruit students of color to matriculate at JMU and offer opportunities for prospective students to apply early for the Haynes Scholars program,” Taalman said. 

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