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Students Provide Hopeful ‘FEEDBACK’

New initiative champions equity among marginalized students.

(Clockwise from top left:) Nana-King-Karikari, Mickey Ruiz, Kaycie Opiyo and Kim Ha.
(Clockwise from top left:) Nana-King-Karikari, Mickey Ruiz, Kaycie Opiyo and Kim Ha.

Though the University of Washington (UW) prides itself on diversity, there’s still much work to be done regarding the promotion of equitable representation of our state’s native and Latino communities.

Thanks to the dedication and commitment of four UW undergraduate students – Micaela (Mickey) Ruiz, Kaycie Opiyo, Kim Ha and Nana-King-Karikari) – a new program has been designed to energize and advance those efforts. The student-driven initiative, called FEEDBACK (Fostering Educational Excitement Designed for Bold and Academically Curious Kids), aims to encourage educational achievement in young students from underrepresented backgrounds.

In addition to the project’s four co-founders, all pursuing degrees in STEM, the team is comprised of UWSOP graduate student Kendan Jones-Isaac, who is pursuing a doctorate in the Department of Pharmaceutics, and Pharmaceutics Associate Professor Ed Kelly. Both Kelly and Jones-Isaac are serving as project mentors.

“As their graduate mentor, I have been continuously impressed with the creativity and dedication of our student leaders,” said Jones-Isaac. “FEEDBACK is, at its core, shaped towards celebrating the valuable role that educators play in inspiring student aspirations. We are students who have benefited from their inspiration, and want to give back.”

Kelly added that what makes the project special is that it was created by students– for students.

“A goal of the FEEDBACK program is to give the teachers the tools and advice on how to cultivate intellectual curiosity and motivation at this critical juncture in these students’ lives,” he said. “While everything to date has been via online, we do plan to have a field trip for the cohort of students to UW with the grant support we received. ”

The project’s origin took root in late 2020, during a seemingly random study break discussion.

“We were talking about how cool it would be to start a STEM outreach program,” recalls Ruiz, who also serves as executive director for the FEEDBACK project. “Kim (Ha) was looking through her emails and saw several mentioning the Husky SEED grant, so she suggested that we actually start an outreach program and apply for it. We applied for the first SEED grant but got rejected. Then we applied for the OMAD Diversity grant in autumn and got it – and here we are!”

Co-founder Kaycie Opiyo believes empathy and compassion are essential components to making the FEEDBACK project successful.

“I hope this program will create accessibility,” she said. “With FEEDBACK, we can help break down those misconceptions and show kids that there are people out there who care about them and want to see them succeed. We can all learn from each other.”