How University of Maryland, Baltimore County Is Solving for the Underrepresentation Problem in STEM Fields

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

Dr. Phyllis Robinson, Professor of Biological Sciences at University of Maryland, Baltimore County, joins the podcast to discuss UMBC’s intentional and industry-leading success in retaining diverse students within STEM programs and how other institutions can do the same. Take a look at this research backing the Meyerhoff Scholars Program.

What is the MYERHART program do? It creates a cohort to the myerhart program is students who commit themselves, after their see here, to pursuing a Ph D. install. You're listening to enrollment growth university from Helix Education, the best professional development podcast for higher education leaders looking to grow enrollment at their college or university. Whether you're looking for fresh enrollment growth techniques and strategies or tools and resources, you've come to the right place. Let's get into the show. Welcome back to enrollment growth university, a proud member of the connect eedu podcast network. I'm Eric Olson with Helix Education and we're here today with Dr Phillis Robinson, professor of Biological Sciences at University of Maryland Baltimore County. Phillis, welcome to the show. Welcome, really excited to talk to you today about solving for the underrepresentation problem in the stem fields. But before we dig into that, can you give the listeners a little background on both UMBC and your roles there? Okay, so I am professor in the Department of Biological Sciences. I've been at UMBC about twenty nine years and prior to that I was a post arc at brandise and did my Ph d at the University of Wisconsin Madison. My specialty is molecular or science and vision, so basically a vision scientist. I've also been involved in advocating for underrepresented individuals in the stem field and so I've been involved with women at faculty through a NSF advanced grant and more recently I'm the director of the UNBC Mark and now you rise program which is from National Institute of General Medicine with the role of the purpose of getting more underrepresented students to pursue PhDs or MD PH DS in Biomedical Sciences.

So UNBC is a fairly new mid size public university five miles outside of Baltimore who is founded in one thousand nine hundred and sixty six. It is its population of students represents the Maryland demographics. It's a majority white school. It has twenty two percent of its students are minority and it has a large Asian population and it has Hispanic students, especially drawn from the area outside of Washington DC where there's a large Central American population. It is known for its education of underrepresented in individuals and stem it is the UNBC as a majority university produces more African Americans who go on to get a PhD in the stem than any other majority university in the country and it produces more students who African American students who get an MD Ph d than any other university in the whole country. And that's a pretty amazing statistics, since the total undergraduate populations around elevenzero compared to places like University of all the Uhio state or university Wisconsin, the big ten universities, where we're talking Fortyzero undergrads. And so it's really accomplished a lot under the thirty year leadership of Dr Freeman Hebrawska, who's a nationally and internationally known African American mathematician WHO's been at the realm of president for thirty years. He is a big voice behind the whole initiative of getting under represented individuals...

...to thrive and stem. It is an incredibly amazing statistic and story. I love that your academic background in your long tenure at UNBC is going to help to try to figure out what you're doing differently. But perhaps to kick us off to the Philis, can you just provide us with what we're up against the a high level overview of the underrepresentation problem in the stem fields today. So I mean if we take a look at the US population of African Americans, Hispanic, let ten X or and disabled individuals, they are not significantly represented in the upper realms of PhD candidates. And then once we get into the university system you can see there's a twiddling of them as they as we go from you know, towards full professor. So you know, I think the US population of African Americans is around twelve thirteen percent and is about four percent of them represented in stem graduate programs. And so if you think about a workforce development issue for the United States, becomes a big problem for and several years, and are ten fifteen years we're going to be a majority minority country and if we want to develop a workforce in stem we have to get these individuals from underrepresented groups to interested in in a stem career and give them the tools to succeeded. It well said, and you tease at this earlier in your introduction, but at two thousand and nineteen study you found that no other major institution is better at retaining diverse students within stem programs than UMBC Phyllis, help the rest of us out. What are all you doing and what...

...are you doing differently? Okay, well, you know, I think I'll take a look at the Myyerhoff program which actually is in its thirty third year. That was started in one thousand nine hundred and ninety three with money from philanthropist by the name of Myerhoff, Joseph Meyerhoff, and Freemont Hobrowski, before he was the president. And from one thousand nine hundred and ninety three to two thousand and twenty they've been over one four hundred Myyerhoff scholars and ninety eight percent of them graduate and stem at this point there's three hundred and sixty seven Ph ds, sixty six MD Ph d's, a hundred and eighty MD's Ordo's and thirty masters in the field of computer science. And a statistic that's really tells you about our programming works is that in a recent study evaluation of the Myyerhoff Program and the rise program, which I'll talk to you about, is the control group where students who were accepted into the Myyerhoff Program but shows other universities, and if we take a look at what's happened to them. They both graduate. Both groups graduate with a decent GPA. A UNBC students are five point three times more likely to go to graduate school or MD Ph d programs than they are counterparts. They would have been accepted into the program but went somewhere else. And so what is UMBC? What is the Myerhoff Program do? It creates a cohort to the Myerhoff program is students who commit themselves after their see year to pursuing a PhD in Stam and so it's a broad overview of from physics to math to biomedical the rise program that I have the...

...director of is a grant as a subset of this group, as a grant and National Institute of General Medicine, and that is targets students who are going on to PhDs in Biomedical Related Research, and so it's a it's a small subset of the Myerhoff. So each class in the Myerhoff is fifty to seventy students and we have some way of between seventeen and twenty uise students at the junior and senior year and I can tell you more about that program a little bit. But the Myerhoff Program itself starts accept students in their C Year of high school and then they come to campus during the summer between their fresh seat graduating and their freshman year and it's a six week summer bridge program which is more like going off to the marine basic training. The students are don't have access to their families, their boyfriends, their girlfriends, their dogs and they only have access to electronic devices about an hour every night. And it's a group building, total emergienic exercise. So if Eric, if you are late for breakfast, then we all have to get up fifteen minutes early. Wow. And we take a math class and everybody gets the grade of the lowest person in the class. And then there's a lot of exercises in terms of what is a professional scientists look like trips to, you know, the laboratories that Johns Hopkins and the National Institute of Health, lectures about etiquette. They all take a class on the history of African Americans and this emphasis on the role of Biomedical Science and the African American community, and so it's a really tough six week indoctrination and you know, I tell the students the only difference...

...between that and and going to Paris island is that they don't shave their hair off. And then the years the program is succeeds because there's it's team building, there's there's actually thirteen components which, you know, I can give people the all of it, but involves mentoring, team building, professional building, high expectations and there's also the involvement of the parents. So that's a huge involvement. So there's a Myerhof parent association that's very much involved, and so it's a sort of all encompassing program where it's trying to build everybody up and there's a lot of mentoring goes on. So if you're taking organic chemistry struggling, they'll find somebody who's a little more advanced who can help you with your organic class and it's an amazing program and it's intense and in the there's involves mentoring, and so there's four or five individuals whose sole job in the Myerhof office is to sort of organize and mentor these students through their four years. The rise program, which takes students there, we accept students in their sophomore year, is really dedicated to biomedical and and that's really I'm very much more familiar with so the in nuts and bolts of this program since of the director. Yeah, I have to say that the most of the hard work is done by my associate director, Dr Jackie King. But the what the program and tails is sustained research. So the students have to do two years of sustained research in two summers of sustained research. In the grant gives us money,...

...so we provide stipends and living expenses so the students the cost of their junior and senior is fairly minimal. So we don't want our students working off campus at other jobs. They required to put ten hours of work in in the laboratory. That's where their focus is and they need a three, point two five GPA. And then we have a lot of professional development events and fun events and we also pay attention to, you know, their mental health and you know, Dr King is very good about guiding them to the resources if they need help and or struggling. We get them connected with tutors if that what's what they need. And then Dr King is developed a very precise timeline over their junior and senior year for getting into graduate school or MD PhD programs. And so by the the spring of their junior year they have to buy before they go do research for that summer. Have to give her a list of fifteen schools that they might be interested in. Personal statement. The first draft is due at the end of the summer and then during the fall of their senior year, the Dr King goes over their personal statements, their applications and when they're given get interviews, she conducts mock interviews with the students. So we've had a tremendous amount of success getting our students into some of the premier graduate and MD Ph d programs in the country. One of our students recently was a Rhodes scholar, a graduate of the myerhof program who was not funded by mark or you rise, which predated our you rise. Was Kissy Korbet, who is one of the creators of the covid vaccine. She...

...was a Myerhaff student supported by another grant. The Commissioner of Baltimore Public Health is a myerhff program we have another Myer Haff graduate who was the WHO said Duke, who just was an hh my scholar, and Adams, who was the surgeon general under trump, was also our UMBC Myerhof graduate. So our students have gone on to do amazing things and it's a place where under represented nerds and science students feel comfortable. And so there's a created an atmosphere over the last thirty years where the facult they also have an expectation that minority students are going to be your best students. And so I think there's a cultural success and it translates into students who are not Mayer Haf students or are you rise students, in that I've had students who see these other students as examples and and so there's you know, the water is lifting everybody up, and Dr Browski's attitude is if you look to the left and right and that person doesn't graduate with you, then you've done something wrong. And he is thought very hard about what it takes to get underrepresented people into stem and succeeding there. Phill us the programs sound amazing, so comprehensive, so thoughtful. It's a good reminder that just wanting something, wishing our stem programs were more diverse, versus actually building initiative strategies programs to make it happen is the difference. Phillis any next steps advice you can leave us with for other institutions listening to this excited jealous. They want increase the diversity within their stem program they don't just want to wish it. Where should they start? Well, they need...

...to start with a cohort, even if it's a small cohort. It's also takes some money, right, so it needs one or two staff that are devoted to making it happen and creating an environment so these students succeed. There are money, you know. There's money out there from National Institute of Health. I don't know if NSF, but you know, and I h the National Institute of General Medicine has grants like the you rise or mark program which are targetting under represented students. To go on for PhDs, it's partnering and Creating Research Experiences. And so if a place doesn't have a bunch of faculty who do research, then it's partnering with some university or Medical School nearby where the students can actually get their hands wet or, you know, their fingers tired on a keyboard doing research. And it takes some money. And so UNBC it. You know, it's not a wealthy university and so it's out of it is always these programs are scraping by with grants from various donors and and so a place like Harvard, which with is fifty three billion dollar in Dowmond, could easily replicated. But it's also an attitude of the faculty where there they buy into the program and see the need for changing the demographics of who is in stem and creating a welcoming environment. Phillis, thank you so much for your time today. In your long ten you're at UNBC helping make this reality. What's the best place for listeners to connect with you? If they have any follow up questions, they can email me. It's simple. It's P robin so all without the end at U NBC, Dotty. Do you awesome, Phillis. Thanks so much for joining us today. My pleasure.

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