A New Path

Paving the way for students to thrive.

Professor Gentry Patrick has spent a lifetime defying the odds. Going by percentages, an African-American growing up in the Los Angeles neighborhoods of Compton and Watts was unlikely to become a tenured UC San Diego neuroscience professor. But Patrick did just that, and now he is pouring himself and his life experience into a new program to reset the odds for students from the same types of historically under-resourced communities.

“Students who come from impoverished neighborhoods are often seen through a deficit lens, and this stymies their potential,” says Patrick. “We need to use a new playbook that values their community and cultural experiences, engages their capacity and builds upon their strengths so that they can achieve and excel.”

At UC San Diego, that new playbook is known as PATHS, or the PATHways to STEM through Enhanced Access and Mentorship Program. Over a year in development, Patrick and co-creator and program coordinator Leigh Eck intend to increase the number, persistence and retention of underrepresented students in STEM subjects: science, technology, engineering and math. The program centers on the elements that shaped Patrick’s own road to success in those fields—a path paved with a vast network of mentors, advisors and supporters.

The PATHS journey began this summer with the 10-week residential Triton Freshman Scholars Program, operated by the Teaching + Learning Commons to jump-start students’ math and writing skills and expose them to resources like skill-building workshops and laboratory training programs. Over the course of their college careers, PATHS students will also interact with partners from the local STEM industry, philanthropists and community leaders—collaborators and supporters who can step up and make a real difference in students’ lives.

Among the earliest supporters are two UC San Diego alumni, Marcus Boehm ’83 and Kimberley Phillips Boehm ’82, who have donated both their time and monetary support to the program. A versed academic herself, Phillips Boehm can speak to the challenges students are faced with. “During my time as a professor, dean and provost, I saw increasing numbers of first-generation students with constrained resources,” she says. “I saw increased tuition demands on family resources. All of it convinced me that alums and donors really have to step up.”

As a student, Phillips Boehm appreciated the discipline and rigor of her UC San Diego education, combined with the freedom to forge her own career path. Today, she finds it “thrilling and moving” to have a hand in the future career successes of disadvantaged students.

“I made my first gift to UC San Diego eight years ago and I’ve learned that students are truly grateful. I also learned that every… dollar… counts,” Phillips Boehm says, a stamp of emphasis behind each word. “I feel like I am part of a community of donors and gifts that have invested in the future—not just at UC San Diego, but the future of higher education and this country. These students are the inventors of new medicine. They are the inventors of ways to end hunger and cure diseases and start nonprofits. I think we all have to think about how we can support our collective future.”