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in front of shuttle“As part of my ongoing work in the Win Commons, I identify scholarship opportunities and alert students of them as often as possible,” said director of the Win Commons Susan Lyon. One such opportunity was NASA’s Motivating Undergraduates in Science and Technology (MUST), a program that supports undergraduates pursuing degrees in fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. 

When sophomore Sheeba Bali saw the announcement from the Win Commons, she knew this would be a perfect scholarship for her and immediately submitted an application. “The NASA Scholars Program is not only an opportunity to prepare students like myself to enter STEM disciplines, but to facilitate goal planning, resume writing, and internship opportunities,” said Bali. In the spring of 2009, she received notification from NASA that she had been accepted into the program along with only 99 students in the entire country.

Although MUST is open to all students, it is particularly focused on engaging those from underserved and underrepresented groups and providing them with the skills and financial support to enter these fields. According to MUST spokeswoman Lauren Miranda Jackson, “There are three challenges faced by every undergraduate. These include finding the right summer internship programs, earning scholarships, and connecting with faculty, mentors, and peers working professionally. As a MUST Scholar, Sheeba benefits from all three.” Through her acceptance into the program, Bali is also the recipient of a scholarship award in the amount of $10,000.

Last August, Bali attended her first symposium as a NASA Scholar held in Orland, Florida at the Kennedy Space Center. “The symposium paved the way for year-round mentoring and tutoring support both on and off campus,” said Bali, who has been paired with a chemistry professor at Texas AMU, who will serve as an additional mentor. “The theme of the 2009 symposium was “21st Century Leadership Skills,” and workshops ranged from technical and proposal writing, to personal financial training (from a CNN financial analyst), to scholar presentations and GRE strategy sessions.”

In the summer of 2010, Sheeba will participate in a paid internship at one of NASA’s ten sites. With a strong interest in chemical engineering, Sheeba sees this as a hands-on opportunity to explore thermal protection systems and present some her own research at next year’s symposium.

Here on campus, Sheeba is a co-chair of Women in the Sciences, a program that she co- founded with fellow student Emma Uhrlich last year. The group invites prominent women in the field to speak on campus and encourages intellectual comradery and leadership. For Diversity Day last month, Sheeba and a small group of faculty and peers conducted a workshop called “Male Nurses and Female Nobel Prizewinners: Addressing Gender Stereotypes in Fields of Science, Mathematics, and Engineering.” The workshop focused on the questions of prejudice related to both genders in the fields of science, mathematics, and engineering. It prompted an animated discussion by asking if students working in these fields today even need to be prepared to face gender stereotypes. “It is important to continue addressing issues of prejudice—especially in such a male dominated field,” said Bali. “However, many of our professors here at Simon’s Rock have told us of the overt discrimination they experienced at the beginning of their careers that many of us younger women in the field today have never faced. I wonder it has become more of a meritocracy.”

When asked about her plans for junior year, Sheeba replied, “I have a few different options in mind but my main ambition is to pursue the 3:2 engineering partnership between Simon’s Rock and Columbia University.”