The BioInspired Institute does cutting-edge work in complex biological and material systems, but from its inception, leadership and faculty were committed to providing students and postdoctoral fellows with more than just technical training. “As faculty, we know that we educate…
BioInspired Institute Partners With Historically Black Colleges and Universities
The BioInspired Institute focuses on leading-edge research in materials and living systems and trains students at the undergraduate and graduate level. When the United States faced a reckoning on racism and structural inequities, BioInspired’s faculty and staff asked, “How can we support diversity and inclusion in science, technology, engineering and mathematics?” In a town hall meeting, consensus was built around a recommendation that the Institute create a research experience for undergraduates that could help diverse young scientists progress through their education and training.
“As an Institute, we pledged to develop and implement actionable plans to promote diversity in our ranks and support people of color. The CAREER program is the first effort to come out of this commitment, and we are thrilled to have launched this pilot program with our partners at Hampton University and North Carolina A&T,” says Lisa Manning, William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor of Physics and director of BioInspired.
“We looked at programs here at Syracuse and at other institutions, and what seemed to be missing were pre-college and post-baccalaureate programs that would really help promising students transition well from high school to college, succeed during college and then proceed to similar success in graduate school admissions and job placement,” says Jay Henderson, associate professor of biomedical and chemical engineering and associate director of BioInspired.
As both Henderson and Manning have previously worked with Hampton University, a historically black private research university in Hampton, Virginia, and with faculty at North Carolina A&T State University, a historically black public research university in Greensboro, North Carolina, Henderson reached out to colleagues at each institution to create a virtual summer program to help students embrace the opportunity to do original research as undergraduates. Their goals are to strengthen high school-to-college pathways in STEM, providing research opportunities, mentoring and other supports to keep diverse students in STEM during their undergraduate careers and provide professional development and networking to enable a successful transition to graduate school.
The result, known as the CAREER (Career Acceleration via Rigorous Educational Experiences in Research) Pre-College Program, is a one-week intensive experience that took place over the Discord online collaboration platform. CAREER programming included interactions with researchers, help developing a personal statement, discussions of how scientific research works and career planning for incoming undergraduate students.
“We covered topics like creating a professional profile and resume, reaching out to faculty for opportunities, taking advantage of resources on campus and how to apply for financial support for summer research during college,” says Henderson.
Fourteen students drawn from Hampton, North Carolina A&T and Syracuse University participated in the summer program.
Melanie Salas, a first-generation college student from Syracuse, plans to attend veterinary school after graduation. She chose to participate to meet potential mentors and test out her commitment to STEM to see if it is the right fit. “The most valuable part of the program was seeing the support that professors give students. I have already been accepted into a lab to work with Professor Latha Ramalingam in the Falk College. I also learned to never be afraid to seek help. There is always someone willing to help, but it’s on us to reach out.”
While students gained from what they experienced during the program, faculty development is another program goal. “We want to improve how we mentor diverse students and increase collaborations between minority-serving and predominantly-white universities,” says Henderson.
After this summer’s successful pilot, program faculty plan to look at outcomes, such as how many students participate in research during the year and each summer, internship and fellowship applications and long-term outcomes such as successfully earning a STEM degree and admission for graduate programs. Faculty at all three institutions hope to form collaborative research programs where students can get real-world experience in multi-institutional scientific research.
“Our next step is to seek additional funding,” says Henderson. “We’re investing our time and expertise because we believe that STEM disciplines can only gain from broader representation. The partnerships with Hampton and North Carolina A&T can help us broaden the pool from which we recruit graduate students and postdocs and the program has already taught us ways we can improve how we work with undergraduate students.”