Student works to increase diversity in STEM fields for next generation
Devin Dykes, a CSE sophomore, was a leader in high school before he entered the University of Minnesota. Along with some of his high school classmates, he would visit elementary schools to chat with kids from underrepresented groups about the value of education.
“We’d talk about the different opportunities that can open up for them. It was nice to help instill in them the idea that if you work hard, if you do really well in school, you can do anything you choose,” Dykes said.
He would know.
Dykes, who also was a standout on his high school football team and volunteered with the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, graduated with honors, earned admission to CSE, won a 3M Diversity Scholarship, and is now studying chemical engineering.
Developing the future of ‘green’ materials
As an undergraduate researcher, the ecologically minded Dykes worked in the University’s Center for Sustainable Polymers as part of the Hillmyer Research Group. He dreams of a future career in chemical engineering, where he can make a positive impact on the environment by developing and working with “green” materials.
“We take polymers that are currently used now, but not necessarily biodegradable or bio friendly, and try to find commercial replacements for them,” Dykes said. “I want to make sure we don’t have these products continually going into land fills.”
Increasing diversity in STEM
He’s also involved in the North Star STEM Alliance—as well as a recipient of a North Star Scholarship—a partnership of Minnesota colleges, universities, and community groups aimed at increasing the number of under-represented minority students receiving STEM degrees in Minnesota.
“If you look around a lecture hall of 300 students in physics, I’m one of only a few students of color,” Dykes said.
“I was underrepresented in my former school—Roseville High School—so it’s what I’m used to, which is why it’s important to me to promote students who are underrepresented in STEM,” Dykes noted.
Although he grew up in a family of professionals, his dad was a first-generation college student. Dykes wants kids without middle-class stability or family support to know that STEM careers are possible for them, too.
“That’s one of my career goals,” he said. “It’s the right thing to do.”
Science as a creative art
In the past couple of years, Dykes, whose older brother is a photographer, has enjoyed nurturing the right side of his brain along with the left. He dipped into studio arts his senior year of high school and found that he loved it. He’s considering earning a minor in fine arts.
“There’s always a tendency to think of STEM as very objective, and to think of the arts as creative. That’s true to a degree, but I think having a foot in both really helps,” Dykes explains. “The arts help my intuition in STEM classes, which helps me look at things in new ways.”
Last summer, Dykes participated in a full-time research fellowship through the Heisig Endowment and the Gleysteen Scholarship Fund in Chemistry. He will present the fruits of his research as a continuation of his project with the Hillmyer group.
Dykes is thrilled to be at the University of Minnesota, and he’s grateful to 3M for the Diversity Scholarship.
“I’m really happy,” said Dykes, of receiving the 3M Diversity Scholarship. “$40,000 is a lot of money, and right now my parents have three kids in college.”
“This relieves some of the burden on them and on me,” he added. “It also adds to all the reasons I can share with students of why they should work hard—because there are good people in the world who are will- ing to help you out if you do.”
Story by Susan Maas
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