Michael Ferguson graduated with highest honors in May, and then came back to the College this summer to help other students.
Serving as a peer mentor in a program called Raising Interest in Science Education (RISE), Ferguson made phone calls and met face-to-face with students to help them through precalculus, biology and Math 118, an intermediate algebra course that some
find challenging. “It’s a class you have to get past if you want to major in science. Math is an important structure of science,” said Ferguson, who is now enrolled at Temple University.
More than 50 students aspiring for careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics received extra support this summer when RISE launched. The Biology department received $216,149 in initial funding for the program through a U.S. Department of Education Minority Science and Engineering Improvement Program (MSEIP) grant in 2013. “This grant provides more opportunity for minority students who are underrepresented in the sciences,” said Linda Powell, M.D., a professor who serves as the Biology department chair. “It provides those students with increased opportunity to stay in the sciences and persist to transfer.”
In addition, the College also unveiled its state-of-the-art professional research laboratory this fall, which provides equipment for academic research in cell and molecular physiology, and bacterial protein physiology. A $230,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Defense provided the funding.
Dr. Powell, who has nurtured and supported legions of students who are now standouts in their fields, wrote and submitted both grants. Only two of the 12 colleges and universities receiving RISE grants were two-year institutions, Dr. Powell said. The funding pays for books, speakers, STEM workshops and stipends for academic peer mentors.
Mentorship is a key element of the program. “I witness students dealing with many things that interfere with their progression,” said Ferguson, who is pursuing a molecular biology career. “If you can get past those things, let school be the center of where your future is.”
Students enter RISE with varying levels of academic attainment. Some are taking entry level science courses, while others are further along. For example, six in the program worked on summer research projects through a partnership with Drexel University’s College of Engineering, she said.
RISE dovetails with a 20-year National Science Foundation (NSF) program called the Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (AMP), which Dr. Powell has directed since it began at the College. Supported by the NSF, the AMP program provides mentorship, coaching and advising for students preparing to pursue baccalaureate and graduate degrees in STEM fields.
Dr. Powell regularly sees her former students working in the industry across the region.
“I see former AMP students at pharmacies throughout the city,” she said. “I see our students at hospitals—they tend to stay local.”