Student Success Story: Underrepresented STEM student success

How one university is recruiting underrepresented students to STEM programs
By: | May 29, 2019
Naomi Mburu, a Class of 2018 Meyerhoff scholar, MARC U*STAR scholar and now a Rhodes scholar, works on her chemical engineering research project. Mburu was part of the UMBC's program that fosters success among underrepresented minorities in STEM.Naomi Mburu, a Class of 2018 Meyerhoff scholar, MARC U*STAR scholar and now a Rhodes scholar, works on her chemical engineering research project. (Photo credit: Marlayna Demond for UMBC).

Diversity on campus is top of mind for college leaders, but in many departments, staffers are taking on the onus of making sure that individual programs support underrepresented students. Three decades in, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County Meyerhoff Scholars Program fosters success among its underrepresented minorities in STEM through a combination of mentorship and programming.

The cohort-based program recruits high-performing high school students who demonstrate interest in an advanced STEM degree. The students, typically minorities, attend a summer bridge program before their first semester in college, live in the same residence hall and form study groups, says William R. LaCourse, dean of the College of Natural and Mathematical Sciences at UMBC.

Students are coached to sit in the front rows of their classes, raise their hands to ask challenging questions, and stay after class to engage their professors, says LaCourse. They also volunteer in the community, and work in campus labs during the semester and off-campus on summer break.

Faculty and campus leaders are champions for their success until and after they complete bachelor’s degrees. A full-time academic advisor and the program’s top three directors regularly monitor and advise students. More details can be found here: https://meyerhoff.umbc.edu/13-key-components/


Related: STEM-powered equity in higher ed


UMBC graduates more African American students who go on to earn dual master’s and doctoral degrees than any other U.S. college, so the Meyerhoff Scholars Program is becoming a best practices model for other institutions looking to academically elevate and retain minority STEM students.

The model is scalable if there is a total commitment from the hosting institution, says LaCourse. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and The Pennsylvania State University found success following the model. In tandem with the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, UMBC will lead a $6.9 million effort to increase the diversity of underrepresented minorities in STEM at the University of California, San Diego and the University of California, Berkeley. —Stefanie Botelho

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