Creating Connections at the ASCEND Mentor Network Fellowship Conference


Learning from someone who has gone before you can be a crucial piece of career and personal development and it’s why the National Science Foundation (NSF) supported the creation of a mentorship network aimed at postdoctoral fellows.

The NSF Mathematical and Physical Sciences Ascend Postdoctoral Research Fellowship (MPS-Ascend) program supports beginning postdoctoral fellows with significant potential who will broaden the participation of members of groups historically excluded and currently underrepresented in MPS fields. The ASCEND Mentor Network was created to support fellows with NSF Ascend grants.

The ASCEND Mentor Network pairs beginning investigators with mentors in their field for monthly meetings, creates opportunities for interdisciplinary interactions, offers diverse perspectives, connects fellows with resources and provides various in-person and virtual learning opportunities.

The network is a collaboration among Iowa State University, Carnegie Mellon University, Tuskegee University and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. The leadership team hosted the first ASCEND Mentor Network Workshop Fellowship Conference at Carnegie Mellon in February 2023. Fellows and mentors came together at Iowa State for the second conference in October 2023.

ASCEND Mentor Network Fellowship Conference Attendee Insights

“The ASCEND retreat at Iowa State was an incredible opportunity to connect eager, bright-minded scientists with established scholars. Based on the enthusiasm of the cohorts, substantive and long-lasting connections were made. As one of the ASCEND Mentors who is supporting the Fellows’ financial wellness, we were excited about the opportunity to discuss financial planning with professionals who are just embarking on their careers.” – Jonathan Fox, Ruth Whipp Sherwin Endowed Professor, Department of Human Development and Family Studies, Iowa State University

White male with glasses and short grey hair presenting in a room with wood paneling and large posters. He is pointing at the poster.

“Unique opportunities, authentic connections, priceless memories.”

– Mike Phillips, NSF MPS-Ascend Postdoctoral Fellow, University of Denver

“Being part of the ASCEND Mentor Network has allowed me to meet other ASCEND fellows and create meaningful relationships with them. The in-person meeting at Iowa State was especially bond making for me. It allowed me to not only discuss with other fellows common ideas and scientific research goals but also gave me a chance to socialize with fellows and mentors outside of the usual academic spaces. At the same time, I was very thankful for all the resources focused on ASCEND fellows that the conference offered and having a common space with all to share common struggles and feel less on our own during this part of our career.” – Padi Fuster, Ph.D. (she/her/ella), NSF MPS-Ascend Postdoctoral Fellow, Department of Mathematics, University of Colorado Boulder

“It was a joy to be together with fellows at the ASCEND Fellowship Conference in October 2023. The space was one of shared learning, reflection, looking ahead and building community.  I enjoyed getting to know the fellows more deeply.  I’m already looking forward to our next conference!” – Anne Marie Marshall, PhD Research and Evaluation Team Leader, Center for Mathematics and Science Education Research, Empowered Communities Consulting LLC, School of Education, University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee                     

“Working with the ASCEND fellows has been a deeply rewarding experience. It is humbling to work with these exceptional scientists and gratifying to learn about their needs related to financial planning, financial wellness, and wealth building. The ASCEND Mentor project reminds us that regardless of where we are in our journey, we all share common financial challenges and need support.” – Suzanne Bartholomae, Associate Professor, Family Finance Extension State Specialist, Department of Human Development and Family Studies, Iowa State University

Emmanuel Fleurantin and Caleb Ashley, both NSF MPS-Ascend Postdoctoral Fellows, are pictured with National Science Foundation, Program Director, Dr. Swatee Naik.

“The ASCEND Mentor Network Fellowship Conference was a whirlwind of inspiration, connection, and growth. From insightful workshops to team-building adventures, it was a valuable steppingstone for my professional trajectory. And meeting such incredible peers and mentors, like the wonderful folks at NSF, made it an unforgettable experience. “ – Emmanuel Fleurantin, Ph.D., NSF MPS-Ascend Postdoctoral Fellow, Department of Mathematics, George Mason University

“The ASCEND Conference at Iowa State was magical for many reasons. One of the ideas which continues to resonate loudly in my spirit after spending time with other Fellows is that pursuing wellness in isolation, without bona fide connection and belonging, is like chasing after chimera. I am thankful to belong to this special community of scholars.” – Caleb Ashley, NSF MPS-Ascend Postdoctoral Fellow, Morrissey College of Arts and Sciences, Boston College

“The retreat at Iowa State was an amazing opportunity to solidify the sense of community that comes with the ASCEND Mentor Network – both professionally and personally.  It was wonderful to meet my colleagues in person, discuss our science, and participate in professional development. It was also a great opportunity to bond with the other fellows and the leadership team on a personal level at meals, on walks, and during other social activities (like cooking together in the test kitchen!).” – Rachael Merritt, NSF MPS-Ascend Postdoctoral Fellow, University of Colorado Boulder/JILA

“Getting to meet and interact with other ASCEND fellows at Iowa State was an amazing way to start the Fall semester. The retreat provided a rare opportunity to build connections with early career scientists across institutions and disciplines and empowered us to support each other as we pursue academic careers.” – Kyle Dahlin, NSF MPS-Ascend Postdoctoral Fellow, Virginia Tech Department of Mathematics

“This was the week I realized that I had been missing a second family in my life.” 

-Jimmie Adriazola, Ph.D., NSF MPS-Ascend Postdoctoral Fellow, Southern Methodist University

“The October 2023 ASCEND Mentorship Network Retreat provided a space for new and old attendees to connect, build community and benefit from the interaction of a supportive community.” – Alaine Allen, Associate Dean for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, College of Engineering Distinguished Service Professor, Engineering and Public Policy, Carnegie Mellon University

“Coming together at Iowa State allowed for our network to build community through fostering collaborations, sharing resources, and sharing an environment supportive of the fellows scientific and personal growth.” – Michael Young, Associate Professor, Mellon College of Science & Associate Dean for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, Carnegie Mellon University

“The NSF Ascend fellowship provides more than financial opportunity. The ASCEND network has given me a community of people that support me constantly and have helped me improve in ways I could not have without them. The Iowa State retreat was the highlight conference of 2023 that helped us fellows bond with each other and gain valuable skills such as financial planning, improving mentorship, and defining career goals. Truly an amazing experience.” – Skyler Mendoza, NSF MPS-Ascend Postdoctoral Fellow, Engle Lab, Scripps Research

ASCEND Mentor Network Leadership Team

  • Michael Young, Carnegie Mellon University
  • Alaine Allen, Carnegie Mellon University
  • Clark Coffman, Iowa State University
  • Pamela Harris, University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee
  • Tera Jordan, Iowa State University
  • Anne Marie Marshall, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
  • Jennifer Ross, Tuskegee University