Britney Robinson is a first generation Afro-Latina who graduated from UCLA with a B.S in Pure Mathematics in 2021. As an undergrad, she served as a member of the ‘Equity, Diversity and Inclusion’ committees for the Mathematics Department and Physical Sciences and worked as a research assistant in the ‘Bjork Learning and Forgetting Lab’, which is focused on promoting learning and memory performance within educational contexts.
Britney is super dedicated to innovation within education. As the Diversity Coordinator for the Division of Physical Sciences, she has personally developed a special program (B.R.I.D.G.E.) to support incoming freshmen who identify as members of underrepresented minorities or low income groups in the Physical Sciences. Below, Britney answers some questions about the program, her motivation for this work, and her own personal experience as someone who was once a student just like you.
Britney, tell us more about the Bridge Program you’ve built for UCLA Physical Sciences. What can students expect to learn and what skills will they develop to help them at college and beyond?
The summer B.R.I.D.G.E program, or Building Relationships through Intercultural Dialogue, Growth, and Empowerment, as I have coined it, is for incoming freshmen who identify as underrepresented minorities or low income groups in the Physical Sciences. Our goal is to provide a better experience and stronger support for students through mentorship, training, and a sense of community and belonging within the Division.
I didn’t feel that I had many people who looked like me or had the same experiences that I did within my major. For this program, I have designed all of the methods, procedures and approaches to achieve our goal. Instructors have been carefully selected for each aspect of the program and we have the unwavering support of the Dean’s Office. I have incorporated evidence-based learning strategies to ensure the best results for our program.
This program is my baby and it is from my heart. I hope that you get the chance to participate and benefit from connecting with other students like you. Just because we’re targeting low-income and underrepresented students does not mean we think something is inherently wrong with you. I was one of you too. I know that we begin our journey at a starting line that is not equivalent to our better-advantaged peers. We deserve equitable opportunities and encouragement too. You got this!
You were once a UCLA physical sciences student yourself. Can you share a time that you struggled with something here on campus? How did you overcome it?
“Why don’t you just do something easy so you can just get in and get out?” After being accepted to UCLA , I heard this a lot. As an Afro-Latina girl growing up in Los Angeles’ Crenshaw District, nobody expected me to go to college and major in Mathematics. My father was an undocumented immigrant, and neither of my parents went to college. In my freshman year, my father was deported back to Belize. That same year, my mentor died unexpectedly and I began failing classes. Suddenly, I was also responsible for financially supporting my mother, and I made the difficult decision to leave UCLA.
It took me a long time to overcome these challenges because I didn’t have the support system other students do. But I always knew I was capable. After an eight year hiatus, I re-enrolled at UCLA and graduated in 2021. Now, I want to earn my PhD in Education so I can provide support and strategy for students who, like me, are told every day that they do not belong in STEM.
What was it like as an underrepresented student joining UCLA as a freshman in the sciences? What were some of the challenges? Opportunities?
I find that the biggest challenge in STEM, for many students, is a lack of confidence or a strong enough support system. It’s easy as an underrepresented student to think that you’re not cut out for STEM when you don’t have any role models. When people were trying to talk me out of a rigorous STEM major, they wondered why I thought I had the ability for such a feat? That creates stereotype threat and imposter syndrome. You start to feel like you don’t want to become another statistic.
My saving grace was finding communities who either had the same experiences or who wanted to help me make changes. I intend this program to act as one of those communities for you. I must also mention the Learning Assistant program–which I will shout out until my last days because I needed that community. Program Director Shanna Shaked saved my life.
We hear the words “diversity, equity, and inclusion” a lot. As someone who works in that field, why is it so important? Not just to underrepresented students, but to everyone?
Inclusion is not a matter of political correctness. It is the key to growth.
Underrepresented students are often overlooked in STEM because many people erroneously believe that ability is fixed. At first glance we might not seem like we have the wherewithal to complete rigorous course loads. In reality, we have the ability but we are often already burdened with many other challenges. They see those sometimes subpar grades and outdated standardized testing methods as fixed signs of ability.
I think it’s time that we have a growth mindset based on equity rather than equality. When each individual student gets the type of support they need, rather than offering everyone the exact same tools and expecting them to reach the same goals, we will ultimately have more successful and happier students.
If we instead create a better and more inclusive definition of learning, we have the opportunity to be more in tune with how a diverse group of students learn, retain and execute. When we focus on increasing the level of satisfaction in all student groups, increasing their sense of belonging in STEM, fostering group collaboration within diverse student groups, inclusivity, and inquiry based problem solving that extends to social justice, our algorithm can be executed successfully.
What other advice do you have for new underrepresented physical science students joining UCLA?
Do not be afraid to ask for what you need. If you ask a person for help and they don’t know what to do, ask if they can refer you to someone who does, or ask others yourself. There is a wealth of information out there and quite a lot of resources that I wish I had known about as an undergrad. I did not ask enough questions because I was so afraid of seeming incompetent. However, I realized that this is MY education and MY future. It doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks of you. That mindset is how I was able to finish my degree despite incredible adversity. And you can do the same.