By Beatrice Rosen
Loyola Marymount University’s Science and Engineering Community Outreach Program (SECOP), which has offered over 200 minority high school students a pre-science and engineering summer camp for two weeks on the Westchester campus, was disbanded in 2011 after 11 successful summers.
The news may come as a disappointment to some, but reallocated financial and programmatic resources, along with substantial government grants, have paved the way for three new programs: Upward Bound, ACCESS and the McNair Scholars Program.
The challenge for SECOP, according to ACCESS and McNair Scholars Program Director Dr. Edward Mosteig, was that it was for juniors in high school and did not serve LMU students at all. Although 98 percent of SECOP graduates went on to attend college, 65 percent of whom selected a science, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM) field of study, they did not necessarily attend LMU. Thus, the university’s Frank R. Seaver College of Science and Engineering decided to make some changes.
Now, the three new programs provide a pipeline for LMU student success in STEM fields, from the high school Upward Bound program to the preparatory McNair Scholars Program for graduate degrees and doctorates.
Upward Bound, funded in 2007 by a grant from the U.S. Department of Education, is a year-round federal TRIO program designed to provide educational and personal support services that will increase the high school graduation and college enrollment rates of its participants. It serves high school students from low-income families in which neither parent has earned a bachelor’s degree.
From academic advising and workshops, tutoring and college visits, to assistance with the college application process and a residential summer school experience on the LMU campus, Upward Bound is slowly working towards sending its participants back to campus as college students.
Mosteig has begun working with the program’s director in order to accomplish this goal, and he reports that just this year, three out of the 18 incoming students in ACCESS – A Community Committed to Excellence in Scientific Scholarship – are from Upward Bound.
Those 18 students, all of whom are incoming LMU freshman enrolled in Seaver, will begin their all-expense paid, three-week residential ACCESS experience that focuses on academics and critical thinking in the sciences on Sunday, July 28.
Launched in 2009, ACCESS has given a cohort of minority freshmen a running start to their college careers, Mosteig believes.
“It brings together a group of talented students from many backgrounds who have pledged not only to work collaboratively, but also to support one another and to encourage one another to succeed,” says Mosteig.
The exigency of increasing diversity in STEM fields was highlighted in an August 2009 Higher Ed article, which reported that women earned 58 percent of bachelor’s degrees in 2006, but only 21 percent of physics degrees and 20 percent of engineering degrees. Furthermore, underrepresented minorities, not including Asians, earned just 16 percent of all bachelor’s degrees in science and engineering in 2004.
“Some of the students enter the program already knowing what they want to do with their lives, and our objective is to help connect them with the right people to make those dreams come to fruition,” he says. “For other students, they often aren’t even aware of their options, and our goal is to help them discover their passion.”
Interests surely were sparked for a number of students during the 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. days, each packed with multitudinous activities. These included working collaboratively in the computer lab, taking measurements while launching water balloons outside, collecting data in the Ballona Wetlands, travelling to places related to science careers like the West Basin Desalination Center and the Wrigley Marine Science Institute on Catalina Island, and taking social field trips on weekends as well.
The students then continue their ACCESS experience throughout their freshman year in coursework that focuses on both academic enrichment and career planning.
LMU 2013 graduate and ACCESS student Erika Meza, who was nervous and did not know what to expect going into a four-year university, says the program was the best possible start to her career.
“It was an invaluable experience that facilitated the transition into LMU by providing us with a great support system on campus before the school year started,” she says.
Zakkoyya Lewis, also a 2013 LMU graduate and ACCESS student, originally applied to the program out of fear for college-level math and a desire for extra educational support before starting the year.
Now, after graduating with a bachelor’s degree in athletic training, Lewis is off to earn her doctorate in rehabilitation science at the University of Texas Medical Branch. Meza, who graduated with a bachelor’s in applied mathematics, is also moving towards achieving a doctorate. She is first headed to Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health to complete her master’s.
Both Lewis and Meza not only credit ACCESS in influencing their desire to pursue graduate degrees and doctorates, but also the recently instituted McNair Scholars program. LMU was one of 17 locations across the country to be awarded the $1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education, and Mosteig believes that “one of the strengths of our proposal is that we were able to articulate the level of interest among faculty and staff at LMU in supporting students of all different backgrounds.”
McNair is designed to prepare undergraduate students, all of whom are either first-generation college students with financial need or members of a traditionally underrepresented group in graduate education, for doctoral studies through involvement in research and other scholarly activities. The program’s goal is to increase graduate degree awards for students from underrepresented segments of society.
Each year the program will accept roughly 12 juniors and 12 seniors to engage in the coursework on scholarly investigation, summer research internships and undergraduate research opportunities, graduate education, the graduate application process and the publication process.
“This summer, our rising seniors have been working one-on-one with faculty across the university on research, and we have been meeting with them multiple times per week so that we can hear them present their findings,” reports Mosteig. “Our goal is to get them to articulate their ideas to many different audiences in different venues.”
“ACCESS had an influence on me earning a doctorate, and the McNair program was very helpful because the classes gave me insight on what to expect once I was in a graduate program,” says Lewis.
“As part of the first cohort in the McNair Scholars Program at LMU, I feel like the greatest benefit from it has been the support that I have received from the director, administrators, mentors and fellow scholars,” Meza adds.
Although the program is just getting off the ground, Mosteig is already planning more trips to academic conferences where the students will present their work to national, and potentially international, audiences. As for ACCESS, Mosteig has begun focusing on the encouragement of early research experiences for the undergraduates, and plans on emphasizing this further for future cohorts.
Lewis and Meza are just two of the potentially hundreds of future participants in this chronological pipeline of LMU programs that guide and mentor minorities and low-income students in STEM fields.
It all began for them with an application and that initial spark of interest. §Beatrice@ArgonautNews.com
LMU develops scholarship programs for scientific achievement
By Beatrice Rosen