By Published: Nov. 6, 2019

Stereotypes can limit students’ growth, but we are striving to overcome that barrier

Ask a kid to describe a scientist, and she will likely describe a white guy wearing a lab coat. Ask the same child to describe an intellectual, scholar or professor, and the answer will probably be the same, minus the lab coat.


James W.C. White, interim dean of the college, soaks up the scenery in the foothills above Boulder. At the top of the page, students in MASP's summer bridge program find a social and academic community here.

Helping students see that scholars are, in fact, diverse is one way to help young people to study what they love. But while it’s critical to debunk broad stereotypes, it’s also crucial to help talented students understand that inside each one of them is an intellectual—who not only could but actually does belong in academe. At the University of Colorado Boulder, one program that strives, successfully, to overcome the harm of stereotype is the Miramontes Arts and Sciences Program—or MASP.

Launched in 1993, the program’s first focus was biology students of color who were dropping out of school at alarming rates. Soon, the college expanded the program to cover more students from all fields of study along with first-generation students.

Today, MASP’s mission is to support “motivated, traditionally under-represented or first-generation students who want to be part of a diverse academic community” in the college. Through a holistic application process, MASP accepts community-minded and academically motivated students. In addition to demonstrated leadership abilities, the past two incoming classes have had an average unweighted high school GPA of 3.8.

MASP gets results: 90% of MASP students return to CU after their first year. That retention rate exceeds that of CU Boulder students in similar demographics—but not part of MASP—by about 5% to 15%, depending on the year.

Similarly, the six-year graduation rates of MASP students in the years between 2000 and 2012 ranged between about 75% and 85%. Those results exceed the graduation rates of the whole college by about 10 percent, a truly impressive achievement.

The program achieves these results with tools including these:

  • A residential summer “bridge” program that prepares students both academically and socially for college life,
  • “High Impact Practices” that are academically rigorous, including study-abroad participation, internships, undergraduate research experience, and honors theses, 
  • Interdisciplinary seminars,
  • One-on-one advising with a faculty mentor,
  • Scholarship support,
  • And, importantly, a supportive community.

Celeste Montoya, who serves as MASP’s director and is an associate professor in the Department of Women and Gender Studies, says the idea is to foster student success by helping students develop their identities as scholars, to facilitate their sense of agency and belonging at the university. 

Education is the great equalizer, but only when our institutions of learning fully embrace equality."

“Building an inclusive academic community, which requires teaching them to work across difference, is a powerful tool and/or resource for them to draw from in their academic (and life) endeavors,” Montoya says. 

Building that community, she adds, is just one way “to let our students know they belong here and they are capable scholars” who have the confidence, skill and knowledge to excel in life. 

The program encourages open-mindedness, critical thinking, life skills and talent growth, helping each student to be their best self. Because MASP is successful, we want to expand it, and we hope alumni and other friends will help us do so. If you find the MASP story compelling, go online and support it.

One MASP student underscored the program’s efficacy by noting that she expected she’d only gain knowledge needed to graduate. However, she added:

“What I was not expecting was to find myself surrounded by a supportive network of faculty, staff and students that not only created an atmosphere conducive to my social and personal growth but remained unwavering in encouraging my intellectual development as well.” 

These are some of the many reasons I praise MASP and other student-success programs. Education is the great equalizer, but only when our institutions of learning fully embrace equality, when they are truly welcoming and inclusive, when they genuinely become an instrument of rather than an impediment to social mobility and intellectual growth. 

James W.C. White is interim dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.