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First-Generation American Leads New Initiative to Help Hispanic Students in STEM Fields

April 03, 2024 - 3 minute read

Dr. Iris Mowgood, the new director of Concordia’s “Valerosos y Curiosos” (“Courageous and Curious”) HSI STEM Emerging Scientist Program, comes with strong scientific credentials and a personal experience as a first-generation American born to immigrant parents.

“Dr. Mowgood is the perfect person to lead this program,” says Bret Taylor, dean of the School of Arts and Sciences. “She brings a heavy-hitting scientific background and a real desire for students to do well. When you package that together, we know that God is giving us the right person at the right time to lead these programs.”

The Valerosos y Curiosos program is funded by a five-year federal grant and is aimed specifically at helping Hispanic students and students from under-resourced socio-economic backgrounds in the scientific disciplines. The program is designed to elevate all of Concordia’s STEM programs and support all students, says Taylor.

Mowgood earned a doctoral degree in computational and data sciences, where she researched superconductivity through computational models that demonstrated theory and practical applications. The goal of the superconductivity research community is to help find superconductivity materials that can operate at room temperature.

“I am passionate about my research and I love using computers to predict physics,” Mowgood says.

She is an Egyptian-American who was born and raised in her beloved Orange County by parents who emigrated from Egypt. Mowgood first learned about Concordia through St. John’s Lutheran Church in Orange, where her two daughters attend school and where she is a baptized member.

“When I came to Concordia's campus, I was so impressed with how welcoming the faculty, students and staff are, how beautiful the campus is, and that Concordia’s science equipment is top notch,” she says. “It was amazing how close-knit the community is. It’s wonderful to feel that connection.”

Mowgood also serves as assistant professor of physics and is committed to Concordia’s fundamental mission in the sciences: to create a culture where faith and scientific understanding interact and support each other, launching students into the fields of health care, engineering, computer science, and much more. “At other schools, religion and science are kept separate,” she says, “but in this community we can talk about both science and God — how God reveals himself in nature and allows us to quantify and find results, and how he puts patterns in nature for us to discover. It’s beautiful. Every time I discover something in superconductivity, I thank God. It’s such a blessing and honor to do that. It’s a gift to know he had something there waiting for you.”

Mowgood will lead the effort to build an HSI STEM program that excels at providing academic and social resources to all students who might otherwise struggle in a college environment.

“A lot of what we do with Hispanic and lower-income students through these grants will affect everybody on campus,” she says. “We are making sure they have a sense of belonging, and we are guiding and developing them to their fullest potential. This program is here to make them wonderful scientists with a philosophy of science that connects to their faith journey that they carry with them.”

At present, Mowgood is becoming familiar with the campus community, doing abundant research on the tasks she’s taking on, and talking with all interested parties about how to best implement new plans for student success.

“I am honored to have a meaningful purpose at a school that aligns with my spiritual values,” she says. “I’m so grateful to be part of this community.”

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