A life-changing opportunity for students, both incoming and those already in college, could be only an email away. And that is the message Ph.D. student Mone’t Alberts wants to spread as she works towards a doctorate in biomedical engineering with an emphasis on tissue engineering.
During the summer of 2020, Alberts was awarded the $1,000 Hometown Project Scholarship to create a project of her choosing to better her community. With that scholarship, “Yours Truly, Mone’t” was started.
In 2015 as an undergraduate student, Alberts sent an email to her professor asking if he knew of any internship opportunities she might apply for. He replied letting her know he had a spot in his engineering lab if she wanted it. Alberts accounts where she is today to the email she sent back accepting the position, which she signed off with “Yours Truly, Mone’t.”
“I thought that it was right to just name my initiative [the Hometown Project] because I never would have gotten to this point if I didn’t send that email and I truly believe that,” Alberts said.
As incoming freshmen, some students have little to no idea what they want to pursue a career in. For Alberts, she took an interest in planes and ran with it. Now working as one of six women in her engineering class and the only Black woman, she is working to help students of color find their passions.
Finding a passion for STEM
Spending seven years at Boise State was not Albert’s original plan, but there’s nowhere else she’d rather be doing what she loves. Although Alberts enjoys her time at Boise State now, it was not always easy.
In 2015, Alberts came back to Boise after taking a year to attend Montana State University Billings on a soccer scholarship. An injury cut her soccer career short, and she decided to give Boise State another chance.
“After I came back, I was trying to decide because I hated psychology. I was like, ‘This isn’t it for me, there’s not enough math, there’s not enough science,’” Alberts said. “And I’ve always been in love with math and science and have been good at it. I really enjoy learning.”
After a phone call with her father Rico Alberts, she landed on an interest in airplanes. Her father joked that she was legally blind and would not be allowed to fly one, so Alberts settled on figuring out how they were built.
She searched for different types of engineering majors that she might be interested in and found material science engineering. Her first class introducing material science was with Associate Professor Eric Jankowski in the Micron School of Material Science and Engineering.
Jankowski started working for Boise State in 2015 and taught a computing course in materials science. Students learn the programming skills that engineers need, and for participating in Jankowski’s lab.
Using computer simulations to study materials, they work on trying to make better solar panels out of plastics and carbon fiber composites with plastics for companies like Boeing, and organizations like NASA.
“Mone’t was in that very first class [I taught after coming to Boise State]. And she was great. She came in super eager to learn, but it was also her first semester as an engineer. And I could tell that she was being pulled in a bunch of different directions,” Jankowski said.
Alberts is a first-generation college student and an older sibling. During the first few years of her undergraduate career, she worked two jobs to pay her tuition and cost of living while also taking a full course load. After working in Jankowski’s class, he showed her different scholarships she could apply for and offered her a paid internship in his lab for the summer.
Over the summer, Mone’t helped develop computational tools and epoxies for boats and planes.
“Mone’t did a whole bunch of work, helping us develop those computational tools. We’ve got a paper that she’s written, that we have not yet submitted, and she has co-authored three other published papers. And she’s just one of the integral early members of my lab,” Jankowski said.
While working in Jankowski’s lab, Mone’t Alberts made sure she was showing up and consistently putting in the work. In her engineering class, she was one of six women and the only Black woman in her class of 26 students.
Although she did not have role models that looked like her within the engineering field, it never stopped Alberts from continuing to learn and develop her skills as an engineer with Jankowski and Boeing.
“When Mone’t started, it’s not like she showed up and was like ‘I’m going to show you all how to be a team that is responsive to Black women’s issues.’ She showed up and was learning and we were learning along with her,” Jankowski said.
From her time in Jankowski’s lab, Alberts has been offered an internship with Boeing, worked for a semiconductor company and created her own Hometown Project.
While working on her Hometown Project, “Yours Truly, Mone’t,” Alberts reached out to high school teachers to see if they would be interested in collaborating with her to help marginalized students.
Alberts believes that Idaho doesn’t have a lot of resources and representation for students of color who are interested in higher education. She wanted to set up workshops to go to local schools and help students learn about science, college and scholarships or internships for students of color.
In March 2020, no one knew how long the pandemic would last and teachers responded to Alberts saying they weren’t going to see their students for a while. According to Alberts, other teachers wrote back saying they couldn’t pass out the information because they were afraid of the possible reactions of saying it was for only students of color.
“[All of the responses] were at the height of BLM (Black Lives Matters) protests and it was at the height of all of that stuff that was happening all over the U.S. and we live in Idaho,” Alberts said. “So, no one wanted to do it. And that was a really hard pill to swallow, but it’s a pill I’ve been swallowing my whole life.”
Alberts decided to pivot to a platform high school students are familiar with — social media. She created an Instagram account, @yourstrulymonet, where she posted about available opportunities to students of color in Idaho and a video explaining why she started the project and her story on how doors of opportunities were opened for her by sending one email.
“I wanted to be a stepping point for students to go to to find these opportunities, and strictly in the lens of opportunities for minority students. When I started that, I was very optimistic, very excited about how much time I would have to spend on that. And it’s been hard these last few months finding stuff that’s important enough to share because almost everything is gone,” Alberts said.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, funding and opportunities have decreased for programs across the county and in the state of Idaho. Now, Alberts is going to speak with the Boise Rotary about how to continue helping minoritized students when opportunities aren’t readily available and if they would be willing to offer assistance with her Hometown Project.
A role model for everyone
Growing up in Idaho her whole life, Alberts was told by countless teachers and faculty in elementary, middle and high school that the experiences of students of color were not bad. As a constant straight-A student and Black woman, Alberts experienced multiple forms of bullying and harassment from both students and teachers.
“I was bullied a lot in school here and not just by students. When I was in sixth grade, I got accused of being in a gang for no reason. They checked my locker and my backpack in front of everybody,” Alberts said.
With “Yours Truly, Mone’t,” Alberts hopes to offer a safe space for students of color to reach out and ask questions. She has grown up being the oldest sibling and being the best role model she can for her siblings, and she continues to try to be that role model for all students of color.
“It’s not invisible for us. Like it may be invisible for people that have never had the experience growing up here as a kid of color, but it’s not and it needs to change because there are kids of color here. And as Idaho grows, there’s going to be more, and they need a space where they can be safe, feel safe and feel like someone cares about their future and where they end up,” Alberts said.
Alberts attributes a lot of her drive and passion to her parents who have been a constant support system throughout her life. Rico Alberts, her father, had to learn to let his daughter go and watch from afar as she grew into her role in the community.
“Being a person of color and also being a woman, those are two tough things to deal with, as well as living life in general” Rico Alberts said. “So, she’s going into a field dominated by men and how can you not be proud of her? She goes in and she has earned respect.”
Rico Alberts watched as his daughter grew into not only an independent woman, but as an outspoken leader in the community. She does not try to compete against others or be better than someone else, according to Rico Alberts. Mone’t Alberts simply outdoes and competes against herself.
While working towards her Ph.D., Alberts plans to continue to develop and collaborate with those in the Idaho community to bring further awareness to students of color about “Yours Truly, Mone’t.”
“When I do interviews like this, students go to my Instagram, they message me, they find these interviews, and they find me and ask me questions about school,” Alberts said. “Even if it’s one student or two over the course of the time that I’ve been doing this program — that’s worth it to me because I never had that, and to even be able to help just a couple of students is worth it.”