Sunday, February 19, 2017
Exhibit Hall (Hynes Convention Center)
Malathi Srivatsan, Arkansas State University, State University, AR
Economic growth in the 21st century depends on innovation and requires bold initiatives to significantly increase capacity in STEM fields, especially from groups underrepresented (URG)in STEM fields. Therefore in Arkansas a Bridge program was initiated in 2014 to bridge URG undergraduates to masters and masters to Ph.D. programs, providing nurturing and wrap-around mentoring to expose undergraduates to research that will inspire them to join masters programs which will serve as a bridge to the doctoral programs with funding support from NSF and resources from participating institutions, Arkansas State University-Jonesboro (A-State) and the two HBCUs in Arkansas, the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff (UAPB) and Philander Smith College (PSC) in Little Rock. Our efforts thus far resulted in 22 URG undergraduates obtaining hands on research experience in the summer, one graduate student successfully graduating and three more graduate students in the pipeline. Evaluations showed that students found their research experience as very valuable, expressed their decision to pursue graduate education while requesting opportunities for social interactions. Therefore we incorporated a science outreach component to this program. In June and July of 2016 the bridge undergraduate research interns along with their buddy mentors and faculty mentors developed hands on activities for K-12 students. On Saturdays they engaged K-12 students at the local Hispanic community center in learning about (i) brain, sensations and behavior, (iii) plants such as rice and their stress tolerance, (iii) what can we learn from insects and (iv) managing water, a precious resource. The survey of participating K-12 students, many of whom from the local Hispanic community who had never participated in such activities, showed that they wanted more such activities and felt that science was ‘cool’. The director of the Hispanic community is interested in expanding this outreach throughout the year instead of limiting it to summer. The bridge students enjoyed their Saturday outreach done together, more importantly identified with the K-12 students readily and felt they had an important role being role models encouraging the future generation to become successful scientists. They took their research more seriously and completed the projects very successfully as seen in their research symposium by all. Further, through involving in the local community together the bridge students from different institutions built their own community, are keeping in touch with each other and with their buddy and faculty mentors. They encourage each other to join graduate programs, exchange information and tips to be successful. Thus the community educational outreach of the bridge students not only helped the K-12 students from the Hispanic community but through the experience the bridge students built their own community of supporting each other towards becoming role models for the next generation.