NEW YORK—SUNY College of Optometry's Collegiate Science and Technology Entry Program (CSTEP) Program has received the 2023 Inspiring Programs in STEM Award from INSIGHT Into Diversity magazine, the largest and oldest diversity and inclusion publication in higher education. The Inspiring Programs in STEM Award honors colleges and universities that encourage and assist students from underrepresented groups to enter the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). SUNY Optometry will be featured, along with 79 other recipients, in the September 2023 issue of INSIGHT Into Diversity magazine.

Inspiring Programs in STEM Award winners were selected by INSIGHT Into Diversity based on efforts to inspire and encourage a new generation of young people to consider careers in STEM through mentoring, teaching, research, and successful programs and initiatives.

INSIGHT Into Diversity magazine noted, "This year’s honorees truly are an inspiration to all of us who are working so diligently to make a difference in the lives of all individuals from underrepresented groups. Your award-winning program supports this important work through mentoring and teaching, research and other efforts worthy of this national recognition."

As its primary objective, the CSTEP program at SUNY College of Optometry exists to increase the number of historically underrepresented minority students in STEM targeted professions, most particularly in the growing and dynamic profession of optometry. The program is open to all New York State residents who are economically disadvantaged and a member of an underrepresented community.

"I'm very proud of the significant impact we've made in the last seven years,” noted Quy H. Nguyen, OD, director of Minority Enrichment (CSTEP). “When I began my role, we had 3 CSTEP students matriculating at SUNY, to this past 2021-2022 cycle it had increased to 19 enrolled CSTEP students—that is a 533 percent increase. I am proud of the work of my office and all of our staff and administrators who have supported us and our wonderful students along the way. It is indeed inspiring to see increasing diversity at the College, the wonderful community that we've built, and most importantly, graduating more and more culturally-competent doctors that play a pivotal role in health disparities."

SUNY Chancellor John B. King, Jr., said, "Only 2 percent of all optometrists in America identify as Black, and the majority of medical students overall, about 75 percent, come from households with income levels in the top 40 percent. Programs like CSTEP at SUNY College of Optometry are actively working to change these statistics by increasing the representation of professionals of color and students from low income households in this field.

"The program provides students with invaluable experiences, which is crucial in ensuring they feel welcomed, valued, and supported in this field. I applaud SUNY Optometry for this recognition from INSIGHT Into Diversity and look forward to seeing the continued growth of this program, ultimately resulting in greater representation in more medical professions and improved health care for New Yorkers,” King said.

Throughout the past decade, over 420 participants have benefited from SUNY Optometry’s CSTEP program as they explore STEM and health care related fields. Uniquely, the CSTEP students who enroll in SUNY Optometry become part of the SUNY Optometry Irises cohort which provides academic and mentoring support throughout their time at the college. It is for these reasons that INSIGHT Into Diversity magazine selected the SUNY College of Optometry CSTEP Program.

“We know that many STEM programs are not always recognized for their success, dedication, and mentorship for underrepresented students,” said Lenore Pearlstein, owner and publisher of INSIGHT Into Diversity magazine. “We want to honor the schools and organizations that have created programs that inspire and encourage young people who may currently be in or are interested in a future career in STEM. We are proud to honor these programs as role models to other institutions of higher education and beyond.”

A call for nominations for this award was announced in April 2023. More information about the 2023 Inspiring Programs in STEM Award and INSIGHT Into Diversity magazine can be found here.