Encouraging Everyone to Join STEM Career Fields

Jenny Keshwani
The Educational Pipeline: preparing students for careers in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM)

Encouraging Everyone to Join STEM Career Fields

Cultivate ACCESS focuses on women, underrepresented minorities in high school

Interview with Jenny Keshwani Shelby Cammack

Researchers like Jenny Keshwani are finding ways to increase diversity in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields by incorporating curriculum into high school classrooms. Cultivate ACCESS (Agricultural Career Communities to Empower Students in STEM) encourages women and minorities to consider STEM careers by showing they are capable of pursuing these fields.

Keshwani is an assistant professor in the Department of Biological Systems Engineering at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, where she teaches biomedical engineering, such as biomaterials. She also works with Nebraska Extension in biomedical engineering youth programs and in nonformal STEM education. 


Cultivate ACCESS is a mentoring program for high school juniors and seniors to connect with students who have a passion, even if they don’t see themselves as capable of pursuing a career in agriculture, Keshwani said.

Participating students are paired with mentors who are professionals in agriculture STEM careers. Students are matched with these mentors based on as many different demographics as possible. In addition to having mentors, Cultivate ACCESS has University of Nebraska–Lincoln ambassadors who serve as liaisons between the mentors and students. The university students meet face-to-face with participating high school students, Keshwani explained. 

Cultivate ACCESS is an opportunity for students to expand their understanding of what STEM careers could really look like, she added.


The Cultivate ACCESS project received three years of funding beginning in October 2017 from USDA Women and Minorities in STEM to support 30 students in two years of programming. 

“We’re really focused on rural communities,” she said, especially communities that can financially support a high school. If students don’t have internet access at home, they can go to their school or library to access the materials that will primarily be online.

Cultivate ACCESS focuses on the importance of involved parents. Materials are translated in Spanish for families if that is necessary, she said. Keshwani hopes to share with parents the importance of the university’s work and the impact an education in STEM can have on students.


Keshwani grew up on a sugar beet farm outside Fargo, North Dakota. Her interest in working with minority populations developed early in life from watching her grandmother’s work with refugees in Fargo. As “the curtain lady,” Keshwani’s grandmother would go to refugee apartments to take window measurements and then make curtains for them. “I always thought it was really interesting to meet all of these people from totally different places and backgrounds who spoke different languages,” Keshwani said. 

Through her college and professional years, Keshwani has continued volunteering in her communities by tutoring students and working at homeless shelters. “Now that there are opportunities like this where I can interweave what I like to do in my personal time with my work time, it’s really kind of exciting to put those things in motion and to be able to combine passions,” Keshwani said. 

As a female in a predominantly male profession, Keshwani has worked hard to encourage students from all backgrounds and demographics to consider careers in engineering. “When I explain it to students, I say that engineers solve problems and that whatever word you put in front of engineering either describes what tools you’ll use or what problems you’re solving. A mechanical engineer uses mechanical tools, a biomedical engineer solves biomedical problems,” Keshwani said. 


Other Cultivate ACCESS team members join Keshwani from other university and state entities: Department of Plant Pathology; Nebraska Human Resources Institute; Department of Biological Systems Engineering; Nebraska Department of Education; Department of Agricultural Leadership, Education and Communication; College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources Dean’s office; Department of Agronomy and Horticulture; and Social and Behavioral Sciences Research Consortium. 

Visit cultivate.unl.edu for more information.