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Unique Program Empowers STEM Students

Article by Karen B. Roberts, 12:09 p.m., Aug. 2, 2011—

Thirty-seven young men and women departed the University of Delaware’s Newark campus July 21 invigorated and empowered after attending a four-week summer program designed to prepare them for graduate school.

Now in its third year, the UD Graduate Preparatory Summer Residential program has provided nearly 100 recent graduates or rising juniors and seniors the needed confidence and “know-how” to pursue graduate education in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields. Participants come from Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and other institutions.

“If students don’t pursue STEM careers, our ability as a nation to generate new innovations is diminished. This program is about creating opportunity and access for students to enter STEM programs,” said Michael Vaughan, senior assistant dean in the College of Engineering, and the program’s principal investigator.

The program is funded through a $222,000 grant from the National Nuclear Security Administration and the Educational Advancement Alliance (EAA). EAA is a nonprofit organization that provides programs to supplement and enrich the educational environment and experience of students in the School District of Philadelphia and beyond.

Grambling State University senior Michelle Prospere said the program helped her "define her next steps" toward achieving her doctorate.

“I felt what it was like to be a graduate student and learned how critical thinking is important to one’s reasoning ability,” said Prospere, a double major studying biology and math.

Organized by the UD College of Engineering, the immersive experience challenges underrepresented students to embrace the schedule of a first-year master’s student both in classes and outside activities.

It is a multi-disciplinary STEM-based effort involving four colleges  Agriculture and Natural Resources, Arts and Sciences, Earth, Ocean, and Environment, and Engineering and the McNair Scholars Program, which includes courses in calculus, chemistry and biochemistry, as well as modules in graduate prep, technical writing, professional etiquette and career exploration.

Over 10 campus STEM departments contributed to the program’s seminar series, briefing program participants on graduate-level opportunities within their various disciplines.

Team research projects provided participants actual experience in producing PowerPoint presentations and writing research proposals, while tours of the Delaware Biotechnology Institute and the College of Earth, Ocean, and Environment’s Hugh R. Sharp Campus in Lewes, Del., highlighted many available career paths.

Prospere said she particularly appreciated the GRE preparatory class and the faculty’s view on what makes a good graduate school application. “I now understand the work ahead of me,” she said.

D'Angelo Rucker said the experience broadened his perspective on the future. “We can all go to graduate school and succeed, we just need to work hard,” said the computer information technology major at Norfolk State University.

In a new extension of the program, UD recently initiated a memorandum of understanding with EAA that will enable students who earn EAA fellowships to attend any one of UD’s four STEM colleges.

“This is a key opportunity to partner with EAA and increase the talented pool of students pursuing graduate study at the University of Delaware,” explained Vaughan.

During the program’s closing ceremony, Jamal Jackson, a rising senior at Johnson C. Smith University, expressed his gratitude to Vaughan and the other administrators and faculty involved.

“Thank you for opening our minds, that we may share this message with others and cultivate more leaders on our own [college] campuses,” Jackson said.