Stems to Branches: A Wellness Initiative for Women of Color in S.T.E.M.

A Peacemaking Project by Marleny N.

What is the injustice we are solving?

This initiative aims to build and strengthen the community of women of color within the S.T.E.M. field (Science,Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) at Brandeis University. Stems to Branches will explore the history of resilience of people of color within S.T.E.M., cultivate a healing space to share decolonized methods of achieving wellness, and work towards destigmatizing mental health within communities of color. In addition, one of my main goals for this collective is to bring visibility to women of color on our campus so that future generations at Brandeis can avoid this feeling of isolation in a Predominantly White Institution. Establishing this collective will promote unity amongst women of color, and build a safe space that future generations of STEM women of color can use to build an ethic of care.

Our Compassionate Solution:

To solve this injustice of Stigmatizing Mental Health in communities of color and lack of representation/ visibility of Women of Color in Predominantly White Institutions
we will address Systematic Oppression, Racial and Gender Inequality within Academic Institutions
by Building community between Women of Color in S.T.E.M to increase visibility, discussing decolonized methods of healing from Mental Health as well as the history of resilience of people of color within S.T.E.M.

Our Project Plan:


  • To decrease feelings of isolation, depression, and anxiety amongst women of color pursuing STEM at Brandeis.
  • To increase visibility of women of color pursuing STEM on campus.
  • To increase awareness of the history of resilience of People of color in STEM

We will increase my / our compassion by...

- Fostering a community across grades - Giving access to knowledge on ways to heal and practice self- care. - Engaging in self-care/ healing as a community. - Allowing participants to feel more capable of resilience in the face of challenges. - Conducting a Visibility Action Project at Brandeis University that involves displaying pictures and autobiographies of Women of Color in S.T.E.M. all over campus.

How will you show courage?

I will begin by acknowledging that I do not know everything there is to know on the matter at hand. I am here to learn and build with my community. I will show courage by being an advocate for my community when we are in need. This means, taking action on resources we may be lacking and spaces we want to cultivate.

How will you collaborate with others?

This initiative is a collaborative effort in building a community and ethic of care within Women of Color pursuing S.T.E.M. I will be facilitating the meetings, however, each participant is responsible for engaging and contributing their ideas on how we can best create and build this space.

How will you know you are moving in the right direction? (What are specific ways you can measure your impact?)

Feedback from participants of my initiative is something I plan on constantly asking for and receiving. This project is as much theirs as it is mine. I plan on conducting both physical and online surveys to make sure the space can be as accessible and productive as possible.

Key Steps

  • Facilitate our first meeting on March 1st, 2018.
  • Conduct Visibility Action Project throughout the month of March.
  • Create more Social Media platforms to promote the space.
  • Conduct an online survey at the end of march to receive feedback from the community.
  • Hold a collaborative and celebratory meeting with other organizations of color at Brandeis University that holds a space for cultural foods, dancing, and community.


How did the project deepen your team's understanding of the injustice?

Throughout the entire process of creating this initiative and exhibition, I progressively learned that there is a lot of work that still needs to be done. I learned that women of color at this university are in need of the proper resources and support system to build community, achieve holistic wellness, and succeed academically. This, however, can’t happen without a reevaluation of the University’s allocation of resources, demographic, and treatment of people of color on this campus. I learned, additionally, that we must continue to honor and celebrate women of color, especially when they are found in spaces that may not be the most welcoming and supportive.

How did your community change as a result of your project?

I think, overall, as a community, there is a wider acknowledgment on how we each need to be held accountable for building community as an act of healing. I think folks are definitely more cognizant of the ways that their mental health have been impacted by institutions such as our university, and I think that their has definitely been an increase in the visibility of women of color in STEM on our campus.

How many people were impacted by your project?


Explain how you came up with the number of people impacted by the project?

This is a rough estimate, however, I think a lot more people were impacted by the project because, in addition to the meetings I held, my visibility project exhibition to honor and celebrate women of color in S.T.E.M. at Brandeis was ready and viewed by so many of Brandeis' staff, faculty, and students.

How did your team learn more about the people affected by the injustice?

I learned more simply by interacting with my own community and hearing their input and what some of their stories hold. It was an amazing experience to be able to take pictures of these women and be a able to hold space for them to share their experiences. While this is a concept I had already been familiar with, I learned that the imposter syndrome is something that not only do a lot of women of color experience, but people of color within predominantly white spaces like Brandeis.

What did your team learn?

While most of the work I did was independent, when I would work with a team, we learn that listening and proper allocation of responsibilities is always key to working efficiently.

What challenges did your team overcome?

Making sure to advertise the initiative so that people would show up. In the beginning attendance was pretty low, however, after reaching out in person and over social media, and checking in with folks, attendance began to increase. Making sure that the days and times that these meetings are being held is best for most participants is also key.

How have you involved others in designing, carrying out, or expanding this project?

I had asked multiple of my peers to help with outreach for my visibility exhibition project and got staff involved as well.

What advice would you give to someone starting a peacemaking project?

Be patient and do not give up, if this is something you really want to do. Network! Network! Network! Get support from your peers, from mentors, etc, because while you may think you can do things all on your own, its always best when you have a team!

Our Updates:

#Celebrate Women of Color in S.T.E.M

Marleny N.
31 May 2018 20:19

Imposter Syndrome Workshop!

Marleny N.
31 May 2018 20:25


Kelsey T.
1 June 2018 9:46
Hi Marleny! Congratulations on finishing your peacemaking project! I’m on the Peace First team and wanted to say thank you for your amazing work and for taking time to share about your work. Below you will find some feedback based on your Reflection, which we hope will help you to celebrate your incredible accomplishment and reflect on how to grow and develop your project in the future:

I loved reading your reflection and hearing about the incredible work! From what you've written, it sounds like despite already having a solid understanding of the injustice, you've deepened your understanding of the needs of the community, and how to collaborate with others -- that learners mindset will take you far! I am also impressed with how you stuck with it when there were initial roadblocks around attendance. It sounds like you made a positive impact on the community, particularly around awareness and visibility of women of color in STEM. I would love to hear more about how you know you made an impact - through anecdotes or data. After you analyze the data from your surveys, it would be great if you could share an Update with us!
I think as you move forward, deepening your collaboration and bringing on more team members will be key to ensuring you can broaden your impact. You mentioned also that to move forward you'll need support from your university -- how can you help get them on board? I'd think about ways to capture stories of your impact so far -- that can hopefully help them understand why this is so critical.

We hope you will stay in touch and keep us up to date as you continue your work to create change! We'd love to continue to support your work!
Jackie A.
9 March 2018 17:01
Hi there! I'm a member of the Peace First team and wanted to provide you with some Feedback on your Compassionate Insight. We encourage you to use this feedback as you continue to progress through your peacemaking journey, and if you apply for a mini-grant, your Insight will be one of the things we consider, so you are welcome to use this feedback to strengthen your insight before that stage in the process.

First off – I love your group / project title! It super creative and really sells your project’s goals well. I love how you are committing this initiative to creating a caring space on Brandeis campus for generations to come and talk about mental health. It is something that we don’t talk about enough in society or in school environments, and especially in communities of color the discussion can be hard to initiate. I think that this mission statement will help you to resonate with incoming women of color and even with external partners within the STEM space.

Some areas where I think that you could spend some more time would be thinking about how to best utilize the generations who have come before you and their connections, how to utilize other groups on campus who may have a focus in mental health, and hwo to leverage your school board to buy into your group and give you funding. Overall I think that this is a great project!!
Adrian B.
9 March 2018 14:19
Hi Marleny,

Congratulations! Your project has been selected to receive a Peace First Challenge mini-grant. We will be in touch soon with details about this payment.

The mini-grant process is also a space for you to get feedback on your peacemaking project. We hope you will use this feedback to further strengthen your project. Please see the feedback on your mini-grant below:


Wow! This project is incredible. I love everything from the name to your detailed and thoughtful plan. It's so important that you're going into history of people of color in STEM, and I also am excited about your emphasis on wellness--that makes your project especially stand out, and it is such an important thing to talk about in STEM generally and, of course, for this issue specifically.

I also like how you're thinking about the long-term impact this project can have on Brandeis' campus culture. The ideas you have around decolonized care/healing are powerful. And you're demonstrating deep and effective leadership in the ways you're talking about knowledge and learning from community as well as this project being something that is as much participants' as it is yours.

You're also showing strong initiative around collaborating with others for this project! I'm just really pumped for all the things happening in this project! Thanks for your brilliance and effort as you move this plan forward.

Opportunities to make your project even more wonderful:

I have only one question/thought for you about how your project could be even more incredible. I'm curious about how you're defining "women" in this situation, and what your thought process was for excluding nonbinary people of color (at least those who aren't also women) from this space. If someone is genderfluid and is a woman sometimes, are they welcome all the time? If someone is bigender/multigender and one of those genders includes "woman," can they come? And if "woman" is not a part of who they are--but they still experience direct sexism for being non-binary--is this a space for them? Nonbinary people of color in STEM experience deeply crushing oppression due to their a/gender, and the dividing line between a/gender isn't always so clear in any case.

But, of course, as someone who is neither of color nor in STEM, this is all what I've heard from other folks, and not my lived experience, so I defer to those for whom this is their life experience! What are your thoughts? Have you talked to nonbinary people of color about their experiences, and what it might be like to be a part of a group that focuses on racialized, a/gender oppression within STEM? Here's a great resource for how to build that kind of collaboration/those sorts of interviews:

Really excited to hear more! Keep up the phenomenal work. Congratulations and best of luck with your project!

Kelsey T.
6 March 2018 14:45
Hi Marleny! Thanks for sharing about your INCREDIBLE project! I think your project is so interesting -- it is touching on so many important interconnected issues and the specificity of your work means that there is incredible chance for true transformation of the experience of women of color in STEM at Brandeis. I love that you are both focusing on creating spaces of healing right now and on visibility, showing that you are forward thinking in terms of impacting the next generation, Our staff is currently in the process of giving feedback on project insights so someone will be by to give you some more in depth feedback soon!

In the meantime, check out some other projects that are working on similar issues:

Women of Color in Solidarity

We encourage folks to connect with people working on similar topics, as networks only strengthen our work--drop by some of these links if you have time and comment on what others are doing, ask questions, and generally get to know people!

Thanks so much for doing this important work. Let us know if you have any questions, and if there are other ways we can support you!
Adrian B.
31 July 2018 16:07
Hi Marleny!

I wanted to check in and make sure that you knew about the first-ever Peace First Summit happening on September 16th in New York City. This event will lift up the stories of young people who are changing the world, right now.

We are flying out five young people who completed the Peace First Challenge to share their stories of change onstage, connect with Peace First fellows, get advice from a Brain Trust, and receive peer mentoring from a Peace First Fellow.

We want you (or a member of your team) to apply to be featured at the Summit! You can start your application right here: You must submit your application by tomorrow, Wednesday, August 1st. If you have any questions, please let me know!