President's Emerging Scholars Program students at CSE PES/STEM Diversity House Social event

Equal opportunity after the acceptance letter

Program supports high-achieving CSE students

While no two students in the College of Science and Engineering are exactly alike, all are united by their drive to learn and succeed. Yet, the reality is, all students don’t have the same advantages and experiences to get them to and through college. 

One effort to level the playing field is the President’s Emerging Scholars Program (PES). Offering support and services, this program gives underserved, high-achieving students at the University of Minnesota what they need to navigate college successfully.

Admission to the program is based on a holistic review process that includes signs of resilience through personal and systemic barriers in a student’s college application. Most PES students are the first in their family to attend college. They are also diverse in other respects. There are indigenous students, older students, students from rural communities, student parents, students for whom English is not their first language, students of color, and students with disabilities. 

“PES pushes the University to think about how we can offer an equitable experience so that we aren’t expecting everyone to come in with the same knowledge, resources, and understanding.” said Steve Cisneros, director of the President's Emerging Scholars Program at the University.

“There isn’t a box or mold students have to fit into, Cisneros added. This is their University and they can require and request what they need in order to be successful, as opposed to feeling the need to live up to some expectation of what it means to be at the University of Minnesota.”

After accepting the PES invitation, students are open to benefits like free events, professional advising, and peer mentoring. There is even a merit-based scholarship. Students receive a $1,000 scholarship during their first year in the program, and then another $1,000 at the end of the last year, if they continue to participate in the program and maintain certain requirements. 

“There are a lot of questions that other students who’ve had older siblings or parents who’ve gone to college [in the United States] already have answered for them,” said Fadila Zidani, a civil engineering major who received CSE's Chieh and I-Fei Ouyang Scholarship in Civil Engineering. Zidani chose to join the PES community because it gave her answers to those questions.

While PES is a university-wide program and participants are chosen through the Office of Admissions, seven freshman-admitting colleges at the University of Minnesota can decide what they want to include in their individual PES programming. The College of Science and Engineering’s PES is coordinated by Daniel Garrison and Marquis Taylor, along with student coordinator Jeffy Jeffy. 

“PES knows a lot about central programming needs, but in the collegiate office, we’re very in tune with what the STEM needs are and what the needs of our students who are taking CSE classes are,” Garrison said.

While all students at the University of Minnesota are given access to quality academic advising, PES recognizes historically underserved students may benefit from additional, personalized support. 

“PES advisors will often be from marginalized populations.” Cisneros said. “They share some of their students' lived experiences and that’s really powerful.”

Zidani tapped that benefit and was able to utilize PES advising to fill a five-week gap in between jobs with a research opportunity that complemented her major.

“I like the academic advice. That's the reason I got my research position two years ago,” said Zidani, who also credits PES advising for her knowledge of campus resources and financial help. 

Role models and community builders

PES advising also comes in the form of role models, tutors, coaches, and friends. The scholars are required to meet with a peer mentor two or more times a semester over the course of their first and second years at the University. 

After her first year as a scholar in the program, Zidani jumped at the opportunity to become a peer mentor. She applied and was chosen to be one of 40 peer mentors out of approximately 100 applicants.

“[Being a peer mentor] was really fun,” she said. “Some students you bond with more than others, but it's nice to have that connection. Some of my mentees are my friends.”

Another key part of the program is community building, an aspect that Garrison and Jeffy, a chemistry major who received CSE's Wayland E. Noland Scholarship, have special focus on. They plan a variety of free events— such as game nights, community dinners around Minneapolis, Gopher Football games, and museum trips—so students can meet each and build a tight-knit community.

Career-focused and professional development events are also offered in the President’s Emerging Scholars Program at the College of Science and Engineering. Alumni from the University of Minnesota and CSE who have careers in STEM speak on subjects less covered in other areas of CSE.

One of the bigger events offered at the University level is the Summer Seminar, a five-day program for newly admitted PES students to help them better connect with the university.

“It’s honestly the absolute best time and in the end, we create stories and videos and tell our stories and experiences,” said Jeffy.

The seminar was a large reason she became interested in helping PES.

“There are a lot of things that are stacked up against you at times,” added Jeffy, who identifies as a first-generation college student, an immigrant, a person of color, and a woman. “I would definitely recommend this program to students who have parents who might not have gone to college or their parents might be new to the country. I know that PES has been super helpful for me to navigate college and learn more about college in general.”

Learn more about the President’s Emerging Scholars Program in the College of Science and Engineering at

Story by Kathryn Richner

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