Seeds of Success: Fostering Growth in Underrepresented CELS Students

Gyasi Alexander, a Gates Millennium Scholar, still remembers the feelings of isolation when he first arrived at the University of Rhode Island. “I was very overwhelmed,” says Alexander, a fifth year senior and transfer student. “I didn’t know anybody.”

Drawn to the College of the Environment and Life Sciences marine biology program and a desire to be closer to his family, Alexander transferred to URI from Florida International University in Miami.  However, as an Afro-Trinidadian in an academic field with very few people of color, the sense of isolation for Alexander made it difficult for him to concentrate on his coursework.

That changed when Alexander was introduced to the CELS Seeds of Success (SOS) organization, a student-run multicultural STEM affinity group that provides support for CELS students from underrepresented backgrounds. “When I actually went, I realized I wasn’t alone in the challenges I was facing,” he says.

SOS is committed to helping students succeed socially, academically, and professionally by providing a physical and social space for students to foster community, leadership, and teamwork.

“Our purpose is to create a space where students from underrepresented backgrounds in the STEM fields can feel a sense of belonging, can come and take advantage of resources, learn about different opportunities on campus, and develop an entitlement to those resources,” states Alexander, now current president of SOS.

SOS’ founder established the organization six years ago after realizing many of the friends she began the program with ended up quitting over time due to feelings of isolation and lack of community support.

“SOS provides a space in which students from diverse backgrounds can come and build a foundation so they won’t feel the need to leave the college, so they’ll feel like there’s a community with people who look like them or understand the experiences that they have or even people who want to understand diverse people and be in a space that’s just inclusive,” says Alexander.

In addition to creating an overall safe space and community, Seeds of Success provides students with a multitude of resources to help them develop professionally. They do this through sharing information on different research, scholarship, and internship opportunities and hosting educational and career seminars including resume building workshops.

SOS recently held a financial literacy “crash course” as part of their “Woke-ish” series, an SOS initiative designed to enhance personal development and provide valuable life skills. “Knowing that financial stress can be something that takes away from your academic success, like if you’re constantly stressing because you don’t have money at the end of the week, we wanted to have an event to teach students how to budget so they can get rid of that stress and use that mental space to focus on studying,” Alexander explains.  

“I’ve seen people go from being in a shell to giving speeches, running for positions, and just being excellent leaders and role models,” reflects Alexander on the impact of SOS. “I think every school needs a space like this, a space that is definitively saying we recognize the challenges and the history of whatever country and culture you come from and ‘we’re working to help you feel comfortable and to let you know that as much as you’re investing in the school, the school is investing in you.’”