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Skidmore College

S3M: Scholarships changing lives

June 18, 2024
by Peter MacDonald

A program that began in 2007 with just 24 students has, 16 years later, shaped the lives of 130 students pursuing STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) disciplines at Skidmore.

The Skidmore Scholars in Science and Mathematics (S3M) program provides scholarships to academically competitive but financially disadvantaged students from underrepresented groups interested in STEM.

Thanks in part to S3M, the percentage of students majoring in science and math has increased from 20% to 33%.

In keeping with the interdisciplinary thrust of the program, S3M scholars have majored in 19 different disciplines — all nine science offerings, but also social work, American studies,  dance, and more. 

Program highlights include a transitional, five-week summer program for rising sophomores with mini-courses and an opportunity to intern with faculty members conducting research. S3M also provides academic support like peer tutoring, study groups, mentoring and advising, and an invaluable alumni network.

Where are they now?

Senior Teaching Professor of Mathematics Rebecca Trousil, who directs S3M, says the program works with students to chart their academic and professional paths and help them identify research opportunities, internships, first jobs, and post-graduate programs.

S3M grads have become data analysts, physicians, park rangers, cyber security specialists, engineers, and more. 

It’s such a privilege to watch the S3M students discover their passions and chart their own course during their time at Skidmore and beyond.
Senior Teaching Professor of Mathematics Rebecca Trousil, S3M Program director

Read the stories of five S3M alumni who have gone on to do amazing things in their lives beyond Skidmore.

Edvin Leon Rios ’19 stands on the steps of the Federal Reserve Bank.

The steps to the Federal Reserve Bank

Edvin Leon Rios ’19

S3M scholar Edvin Leon Rios ’19, who enrolled at Skidmore through the Opportunity Program (OP) with virtually all of his college costs covered, is a regulatory data analyst for the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. He is also pursuing a federally funded Master of Science in statistics with a concentration in data science at Baruch College.

As a Mexican immigrant from a single-family household in the Bronx, Rios arrived on campus for the OP Summer Academic Institute with virtually no idea of what was in store for him. But he brought with him his longstanding mindset: “Find and pursue opportunity.”

That opportunity presented itself during his first year at Skidmore, when Rebecca Trousil taught Rios’ Pre-Calculus class in his first semester and his Calculus I class in his second semester. The S3M director would ultimately become Rios’ faculty advisor, which the math major and economics minor says was hugely beneficial in preparing for his professional future. A summer internship with the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) led to a full-time post-college job offer. He also traveled abroad to Spain, solidifying his hard-won independence.

At his May 2019 Skidmore Commencement, Rios remembers feeling like both he and his mom “graduated together.” He also remembers her saying, “You’re not done, right?” He wasn’t!

Headshot of Brittney Dioneda ’15

Pediatrician fulfills childhood dream

Brittney Dioneda ’15 

Brittney Dioneda ’15 is a pediatric resident physician at Yale-New Haven Children’s Hospital. She plans to sub-specialize in neonatal and perinatal care, which extends from pregnancy through the child’s first year, with special attention to the first month of life. 

Recruited to play for the Thoroughbreds, Skidmore was Dioneda’s top choice because she wanted to go to a college where “I knew my professors well enough that they could write thoughtful, intentional letters of recommendation for my med school applications.”  

Initially, however, Dioneda, whose paternal grandfather is Filipino, planned to attend a school in the Midwest that was a better fit for her family’s budget. Happily, the combination of her mother’s helpful conversations with Skidmore’s Office of Financial Aid and the S3M scholarship changed the equation. Her mom called her to tell her she could attend Skidmore after all — “the best phone call of my life,” Dioneda says. 

She would go on to co-captain the women’s lacrosse team and major in exercise sciences (now health and human physiological sciences) — a “super-unique major that separated me from other med school applicants.” She also added a minor in chemistry. As part of S3M’s summer program, Dioneda shadowed her health professions advisor, Professor T.H. Reynolds, in his lab, exploring the connection between Type 2 diabetes and obesity. 

After graduation, thanks to alumnus Joshua Boyce ’81, chief of the Division of Allergy and Clinical Immunology at Boston-based Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Dioneda landed a research assistant position in the hospital’s Asthma Research Center. Two years later, she happily returned to her home state after being accepted into the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Medicine. 

“I wouldn’t change a thing about my Skidmore experience. I could relive it over and over again.”
Brittney Dioneda ’15

Jennifer Cristiano ’18 stands on the deck of a boat in her uniform. A range of mountains can be seen from across the water.Unexpectedly a U.S. park ranger

Jennifer Cristiano ’18 

Jennifer Cristiano ’18 majored in environmental science and is now a U.S. park ranger. The first-generation college graduate recently finished a nearly two-year stint at Glacier Bay National Park in Alaska — three million acres of beautiful mountains, glaciers, rainforest, and coastlines. There, she and other park rangers boarded cruise ships, rotating between leading a junior park ranger workshop, doing a general theater presentation, and narrating the four-hour boat trip. She also staffed the visitor center and led education programming for local schoolchildren.

The Yorktown Heights, New York, native says the S3M scholarship was pivotal to her decision to attend Skidmore, especially the summer research component, since research is what she wanted to pursue. “The scholarship — both the funds and the program — is the reason I said yes to Skidmore.”

During the summer program, Cristiano conducted research with Senior Lecturer Anne Ernst on whether rising water temperatures and development affected water quality in Saratoga County’s Kayaderosseras Creek. She went on to do collaborative research with Associate Professor of Environmental Sciences and Studies Kurt Smemo in the Adirondack Mountains — notably, a multiyear study on levels of atmospheric carbon stored in the soil in different forest ecosystems.

Prior to her senior year, Cristiano and a fellow student traveled with Smemo to present their soil research findings at a conference in Portland, Oregon. Afterward, the students traveled to Glacier Bay, camping out and taking a memorable boat ride with a park ranger. It was then that Cristiano decided that she really wanted to become a park ranger. A light bulb went off. “I never intended to follow this path, but I’m so happy with how it’s turned out.”

Says Cristiano, “Doing research was a whole different way of learning, and I really enjoyed doing fieldwork and being outdoors. But my favorite part was — and still is —taking data and making it accessible and understandable to the general public. Becoming a ranger was a natural transition for me.”

Giovanni Peyo ’24 stands in front of a classroom in BTCIS.A bit like Sherlock Holmes

Giovanni Peyo ’24

Computer science major Giovanni Peyo ’24 came to Skidmore sight-unseen from Haiti. One of his father’s friends, who was familiar with U.S. colleges, gave him a short list of possible places. Skidmore was on it. 

The S3M scholar hit the ground running when he arrived in Saratoga Springs, independently seeking out a computer science internship in the spring of his first year. That same semester, he took an intro computer science class with his advisor, Associate Professor Christine Reilly, with whom he also did summer research analyzing the relative efficiency of the programming languages Java and Python. Along the way, Peyo learned that computer science is a “vast field and that data science was not for me.” 

Eager to gain experience, Peyo landed a position during the summer after his sophomore year as an information security intern with The Baupost Group, a $30 billion Boston-based investment management firm. The experience equipped him with valuable insights into best practices, information security controls, and business continuity — knowledge he parlayed the following summer into a cyber risk and financial advisory internship at Deloitte’s Boston offices, where he was introduced to system resilience and cloud security.

Before going to Boston, Peyo broadened his horizons by spending his spring semester studying at Budapest University of Technology and Economics and finding time to visit nine different countries. Peyo has a full-time job lined up at Deloitte. 

It’s ironic that my new passion is cyber security. In my younger years, I had so much fun jumping networks on online gaming sites. I guess the Sherlock Holmes in me cuts both ways.
Giovanni Peyo ’24

Pauline Searles ’15 smiles from the top of a windmill. Other windmills can be seen in the background.Engineering college on their own

Pauline Searles ’15

Pauline Searles ’15, who attended nearby Glens Falls High School, majored in physics and minored in computer science, in addition to earning a 2016 bachelor’s degree in engineering from Dartmouth College as part of .

They are currently a senior project engineer on the engineering and construction team for Enel Green Power, a worldwide developer and operator of renewable energy plants including hydroelectric, wind, solar, and geothermal.

The S3M scholarship was not only “an honor” but crucial in Searles’ decision to attend Skidmore. Because they had to finance the full cost of college on their own, minimizing student loans was important. As a rising sophomore, Searles did astronomy-related research with Professor of Physics Mary Crone Odekon: “Fitting the Schechter (luminosity) Function to Hi Masses in Groups of Galaxies.”

When looking for an internship, they credit Crone Odekon with advising them to instead “consider applying for a job I was excited about — in my case, one in the renewable energy field — but not truly qualified for, and in the applica- tion express an interest in creating an analogous internship position.” This tactic led to an internship with Albany-based renewables consulting company AWS Truepower (now UL Solutions), which paved the way to multiple project manager positions, including four years in San Diego.

“I loved consulting because I got to talk with everybody in the industry, from the office to the field,” says Searles, who is based in Portland, Maine, and thinks climbing 110-foot wind turbine towers is pretty cool. On their LinkedIn profile, Searles lists just one primary skill for each of their numerous jobs: “communication.”

In addition to their core math and physics classes at Skidmore (“great because of the small class sizes”), Searles also has fond memories of playing for , including an NCAA tournament semifinal appearance in 2013. They were selected All-Liberty League second team in 2014.

A version of this article first appeared in the spring 2024 issue of .

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