Adapting an Annual Research Symposium to Recruit Underrepresented Minorities to Postcollege Education

By Price, Rebecca M.; Rosypal, Alexa C. et al. | Journal of College Science Teaching, November-December 2008 | Go to article overview

Adapting an Annual Research Symposium to Recruit Underrepresented Minorities to Postcollege Education


Price, Rebecca M., Rosypal, Alexa C., Kern, Britt, Powell, Traci, Journal of College Science Teaching


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Scientists need to recruit underrepresented minorities (URMs) more effectively (e.g., Summers and Hrabowski 2006). Here, we describe a one-and-a-half-day Distinguished Scholar Symposium during which undergraduate URMs from nearby schools visit the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC-CH) to learn about advanced degree programs. The symposium provides an opportunity for these undergraduates to interact with scientists and labs at a Research University/Very High (RU/VH) (Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching 2006). Although our model focuses on postcollege biological and biomedical sciences, other educators will find it a useful tool to develop and adapt for recruiting students to any of the sciences.

Background

The Minority Opportunities in Research Division of the National Institute of General Medical Sciences aims to increase the diversity of undergraduates in the biomedical sciences. They formally define URMs as "groups [that] have been identified as underrepresented in biomedical and behavioral research nationally: African Americans, Hispanic Americans, Native Americans (including Alaskan Natives), and natives of the U.S. Pacific Islands" (NIGMS). In addition to national programs designed to enhance diversity, we need to ensure that each institution does its utmost to recruit URMs.

The Seeding Postdoctoral Innovators in Research and Education (SPIRE) Postdoctoral Fellowship Program is funded by the Minority Opportunities in Research Division and trains PhDs to bring novel and effective pedagogical techniques into the classrooms of minority-serving institutions (SPIRE). SPIRE has worked with eight institutions throughout North Carolina: Elizabeth City State University, Fayetteville State University, Johnson C. Smith University, North Carolina A&T State University, North Carolina Central University, Shaw University, the University of North Carolina at Pembroke, and WinstonSalem State University

Beginning in the year 2000, SPIRE began hosting an annual Distinguished Scholar Symposium, and in 2004 we began encouraging students from our partner institutions to attend the event. The goal of this student-centered component was to bring minority students who were considering advanced degrees in the biosciences to UNC-CH. We wanted students to gain exposure to an intensive research environment, and we used our institution as an example of the kind of university that they may attend in advanced degree programs.

Because of the demographics at our partner institutions, the vast majority of attendees were African Americans, but they also included Native Americans. Many students were also nontraditional, including veterans, spouses of military personnel, older adults, and parents.

This paper outlines the activities that make up the symposium. We discuss the symposium held in fall 2005, which turned out to be especially successful; the format has only been slightly modified in subsequent years. We describe how we employed extensive suggestions from students, the activities included, and a list of recommendations. We conclude with reflections on the entire experience.

Setting the goals

Because of the ongoing collaboration with our partner institutions, we had already identified some of the activities that would complement their curricula. For example, many students think that a biology degree prepares them only for becoming a physician, even though they are exposed to a breadth of topics in introductory biology classes. Thus, we wanted to show students RU/VH research labs and the variety of scientists working in them. We especially wanted them to meet technicians who had joined the lab immediately upon completing their college education, so our students could see that tech positions are an excellent way to experience lab research before deciding whether to pursue further studies in that field. …

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Adapting an Annual Research Symposium to Recruit Underrepresented Minorities to Postcollege Education
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