Shared Challenges, Shared Solutions

1 Another stereotype claims that inadequate K-12 education in the United States is to blame for students' lack of interest in pursuing college-level science study. Data from our own and other institutions indicate that students of color and from all educational and income levels enroll in introductory courses in biology and chemistry (the disciplines on which we have focused) at representative levels. Yet they disengage during their earliest experi

By | November 1, 2006


1
Another stereotype claims that inadequate K-12 education in the United States is to blame for students' lack of interest in pursuing college-level science study. Data from our own and other institutions indicate that students of color and from all educational and income levels enroll in introductory courses in biology and chemistry (the disciplines on which we have focused) at representative levels. Yet they disengage during their earliest experiences at the university level. The most successful programs have found ways to stem this early exodus from the sciences.


Louisiana State University's relatively new La-STEM and La-Scholars "mentoring ladder" Programs have graduate students mentor undergraduate science majors and undergraduate science majors mentor entering undergraduates. Programs such as these, along with the Meyerhoff Scholars Program and Biology Scholars Program, keep underrepresented minority students thriving in the sciences, and they can serve as models for the effective engagement of underrepresented science students nationwide.

Faculty and administrators need to confront stereotypes and analyze their own recent institutional records of undergraduate science education if the tide is going to turn away from science's longstanding track record of non-inclusion. By joining a national effort to learn about successful practices and to avoid reinventing the wheel, we are among many who hope our own institutions will soon be included in this list of proven change-makers.

Wendy Raymond is Associate Professor of Biology at Williams College and Robert A. Lue is Director of Life Sciences Education at Harvard University.


1. R.A. Elliott et al., "Non-Asian minority students in the science pipeline at highly selective institutions," (unpub. grant report to the NSF), July 1, 1995.

Diversity in the Sciences Collaborative, www.williams.edu/biology/divsciences
M.F. Summers, F.A. Hrabowski, "Preparing Minority Scientists and Engineers," Science, 311: 1870-71, 2006.
For more resources, visit www.the-scientist.com

Recipe for Success
Trial and error in building successful diversity programs are already yielding valuable lessons. Here are some "do's and don'ts" coming out of this year's HHMI symposia:

Do:

- Reach out to schools. Join with teachers to foster kids' love of science.

- Dispel myths. Research-focused careers can be both fun and lucrative, but many undergrads don't know that.

- Get freshmen up to speed. Provide the intensive prep minority students often need to succeed at the college level.

- Review curriculum. One idea: Modify those big "intro-to-science" courses to keep students engaged and give them greater access to teachers and tutors.

- Find inspiration. Get minority faculty involved as role models and mentors.

- Mentor the mentors. Recognize that mentoring is a learned skill that often requires training. Mentors can range from advanced undergraduates to faculty.

- Build community. Shared activities, continuity, and support breed success.

- Get into the lab. Nothing fosters a love of science like doing science, as soon as students are able.

- Rethink, revise. Monitor programs and make changes based on the data.

Don't:

- Build programs in isolation. Initiatives should link up to help students throughout the college experience.

- Rely on money alone. Scholarships alone won't work. Real success takes ongoing support and caring.

- Let things slide. Keep expectations high, and when a student is struggling, step in quickly to address the problem.

- Be too rigid. Freshman course load just too tough? Different scheduling and/or class choices can usually help.

- Tune out. Listening to minority students' suggestions brings productive change. —E. J. Mundell



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