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


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, aftertheir see here, to pursuing a Ph D. install. You're listening toenrollment growth university from Helix Education, the best professional development podcast for higher educationleaders looking to grow enrollment at their college or university. Whether you're looking forfresh enrollment growth techniques and strategies or tools and resources, you've come to theright 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 withHelix Education and we're here today with Dr Phillis Robinson, professor of Biological Sciencesat University of Maryland Baltimore County. Phillis, welcome to the show. Welcome,really excited to talk to you today about solving for the underrepresentation problem inthe stem fields. But before we dig into that, can you give thelisteners a little background on both UMBC and your roles there? Okay, soI am professor in the Department of Biological Sciences. I've been at UMBC abouttwenty nine years and prior to that I was a post arc at brandise anddid my Ph d at the University of Wisconsin Madison. My specialty is molecularor science and vision, so basically a vision scientist. I've also been involvedin advocating for underrepresented individuals in the stem field and so I've been involved withwomen at faculty through a NSF advanced grant and more recently I'm the director ofthe UNBC Mark and now you rise program which is from National Institute of GeneralMedicine with the role of the purpose of getting more underrepresented students to pursue PhDsor MD PH DS in Biomedical Sciences.

So UNBC is a fairly new midsize public university five miles outside of Baltimore who is founded in one thousand ninehundred 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 studentsare 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 Americanpopulation. It is known for its education of underrepresented in individuals and stem itis the UNBC as a majority university produces more African Americans who go on toget a PhD in the stem than any other majority university in the country andit produces more students who African American students who get an MD Ph d thanany 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 theUhio state or university Wisconsin, the big ten universities, where we're talking Fortyzeroundergrads. And so it's really accomplished a lot under the thirty year leadership ofDr Freeman Hebrawska, who's a nationally and internationally known African American mathematician WHO's beenat the realm of president for thirty years. He is a big voice behind thewhole initiative of getting under represented individuals... thrive and stem. It isan incredibly amazing statistic and story. I love that your academic background in yourlong tenure at UNBC is going to help to try to figure out what you'redoing differently. But perhaps to kick us off to the Philis, can youjust provide us with what we're up against the a high level overview of theunderrepresentation problem in the stem fields today. So I mean if we take alook at the US population of African Americans, Hispanic, let ten X or anddisabled individuals, they are not significantly represented in the upper realms of PhDcandidates. And then once we get into the university system you can see there'sa twiddling of them as they as we go from you know, towards fullprofessor. So you know, I think the US population of African Americans isaround twelve thirteen percent and is about four percent of them represented in stem graduateprograms. And so if you think about a workforce development issue for the UnitedStates, becomes a big problem for and several years, and are ten fifteenyears we're going to be a majority minority country and if we want to developa workforce in stem we have to get these individuals from underrepresented groups to interestedin in a stem career and give them the tools to succeeded. It wellsaid, and you tease at this earlier in your introduction, but at twothousand and nineteen study you found that no other major institution is better at retainingdiverse 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 programwhich actually is in its thirty third year. That was started in one thousand ninehundred and ninety three with money from philanthropist by the name of Myerhoff,Joseph Meyerhoff, and Freemont Hobrowski, before he was the president. And fromone thousand nine hundred and ninety three to two thousand and twenty they've been overone four hundred Myyerhoff scholars and ninety eight percent of them graduate and stem atthis point there's three hundred and sixty seven Ph ds, sixty six MD Phd's, a hundred and eighty MD's Ordo's and thirty masters in the field ofcomputer science. And a statistic that's really tells you about our programming works isthat 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 wereaccepted into the Myyerhoff Program but shows other universities, and if we take alook at what's happened to them. They both graduate. Both groups graduate witha decent GPA. A UNBC students are five point three times more likely togo to graduate school or MD Ph d programs than they are counterparts. Theywould have been accepted into the program but went somewhere else. And so whatis UMBC? What is the Myerhoff Program do? It creates a cohort tothe Myerhoff program is students who commit themselves after their see year to pursuing aPhD in Stam and so it's a broad overview of from physics to math tobiomedical the rise program that I have the...

...director of is a grant as asubset 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 eachclass in the Myerhoff is fifty to seventy students and we have some way ofbetween seventeen and twenty uise students at the junior and senior year and I cantell you more about that program a little bit. But the Myerhoff Program itselfstarts accept students in their C Year of high school and then they come tocampus during the summer between their fresh seat graduating and their freshman year and it'sa six week summer bridge program which is more like going off to the marinebasic 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 aboutan hour every night. And it's a group building, total emergienic exercise.So if Eric, if you are late for breakfast, then we all haveto get up fifteen minutes early. Wow. And we take a math class andeverybody gets the grade of the lowest person in the class. And thenthere's a lot of exercises in terms of what is a professional scientists look liketrips to, you know, the laboratories that Johns Hopkins and the National Instituteof Health, lectures about etiquette. They all take a class on the historyof African Americans and this emphasis on the role of Biomedical Science and the AfricanAmerican 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 Parisisland is that they don't shave their hair off. And then the years theprogram 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 involvesmentoring, team building, professional building, high expectations and there's also the involvementof the parents. So that's a huge involvement. So there's a Myerhof parentassociation that's very much involved, and so it's a sort of all encompassing programwhere 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 moreadvanced who can help you with your organic class and it's an amazing programand it's intense and in the there's involves mentoring, and so there's four orfive individuals whose sole job in the Myerhof office is to sort of organize andmentor these students through their four years. The rise program, which takes studentsthere, we accept students in their sophomore year, is really dedicated to biomedicaland and that's really I'm very much more familiar with so the in nuts andbolts of this program since of the director. Yeah, I have to say thatthe most of the hard work is done by my associate director, DrJackie King. But the what the program and tails is sustained research. Sothe students have to do two years of sustained research in two summers of sustainedresearch. In the grant gives us money,... we provide stipends and living expensesso 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 requiredto put ten hours of work in in the laboratory. That's where their focusis and they need a three, point two five GPA. And then wehave a lot of professional development events and fun events and we also pay attentionto, you know, their mental health and you know, Dr King isvery 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. Andthen Dr King is developed a very precise timeline over their junior and senior yearfor getting into graduate school or MD PhD programs. And so by the thespring of their junior year they have to buy before they go do research forthat summer. Have to give her a list of fifteen schools that they mightbe interested in. Personal statement. The first draft is due at the endof the summer and then during the fall of their senior year, the DrKing 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 ofsuccess getting our students into some of the premier graduate and MD Ph dprograms 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 ofthe creators of the covid vaccine. She...

...was a Myerhaff student supported by anothergrant. The Commissioner of Baltimore Public Health is a myerhff program we have anotherMyer Haff graduate who was the WHO said Duke, who just was an hhmy scholar, and Adams, who was the surgeon general under trump, wasalso our UMBC Myerhof graduate. So our students have gone on to do amazingthings 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 facultthey 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 whoare not Mayer Haf students or are you rise students, in that I've hadstudents 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 lookto the left and right and that person doesn't graduate with you, then you'vedone something wrong. And he is thought very hard about what it takes toget 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 tomake it happen is the difference. Phillis any next steps advice you canleave us with for other institutions listening to this excited jealous. They want increasethe diversity within their stem program they don't just want to wish it. Whereshould they start? Well, they need... start with a cohort, evenif it's a small cohort. It's also takes some money, right, soit needs one or two staff that are devoted to making it happen and creatingan environment so these students succeed. There are money, you know. There'smoney out there from National Institute of Health. I don't know if NSF, butyou know, and I h the National Institute of General Medicine has grantslike the you rise or mark program which are targetting under represented students. Togo on for PhDs, it's partnering and Creating Research Experiences. And so ifa place doesn't have a bunch of faculty who do research, then it's partneringwith some university or Medical School nearby where the students can actually get their handswet or, you know, their fingers tired on a keyboard doing research.And it takes some money. And so UNBC it. You know, it'snot a wealthy university and so it's out of it is always these programs arescraping 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. Butit's also an attitude of the faculty where there they buy into the program andsee the need for changing the demographics of who is in stem and creating awelcoming environment. Phillis, thank you so much for your time today. Inyour long ten you're at UNBC helping make this reality. What's the best placefor 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 theend at U NBC, Dotty. Do you awesome, Phillis. Thanks somuch for joining us today. My pleasure.

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