The U.S. Department of Defense granted $2.6 million to Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, to fund the STEMPREP Project, which aims to increase the number of minorities in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields. The program recruits bright, science-minded minority middle school students to enter a two-summer classroom project, which later gives them opportunity to enter research labs as high school students.
Charles Knibb, the director of academic affairs at SMU’s Annette Caldwell Simmons School of Education and Human Development, where the program is based, believes that “being in this program empowers students,” based on the success rate. 100 percent of the students that finished the STEMPREP program continued their studies to college, and 83 percent became physicians, pharmacists, dentists, researchers, or engineers.
The purpose of the program is to alter the tendency of the current labor market, since African Americans represent only 11 of the U.S. workforce, and only 6 percent of STEM workers, and Hispanics represent 15 percent of the U.S. workforce, and just 7 percent of the STEM workforce, according to a 2013 report from the U.S. Census Bureau.
“As a gatekeeper, I realized there were not a lot of minorities being considered,” explained Moses Williams, executive director and founder of the program in 1990 when he was admissions director for Temple University School of Medicine in Philadelphia. “I wanted to change that,” as he compares the program to training young athletes and notes the importance of identifying talent early and nurturing it through practice and coaching.
During the two summers at SMU, students between nine and 12 grades work as summer research inters at laboratories in universities from the National Institutes of Health and private industry. The program also includes mentoring and nonacademic lessons due to college life at SMU, and tasks like sharing a room in a residence hall, selecting their own meals in the campus dining hall, and washing their own clothes.
This year, STEMPREP high school and college students are interning in research laboratories in Bethesda, Philadelphia, Vancouver, and Dallas, and 12 STEMPREP high school seniors have come full circle, returning to the university as counselors to the newest crop of young scientists.
“Being part of STEMPREP confirmed my decision to become a doctor,” said 18-year-old STEMPREP counselor Feaven Berhe. “In ninth grade when I started working in a research lab studying chemotherapy for breast cancer, I knew I wanted to pursue a medical career.” After assisting with breast cancer nanochemotherapy research for two summers at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia, Berhe conducted a behavioral study on rats at the National Institute on Drug Abuse. And this year she will assist pancreatic cancer research at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School, as well as counsel other students.
In April, the Department of Defense also awarded the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, California with $2.5 million federal grant to fund the organization’s research projects into novel treatments for Amytrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. The funding allowed the facility to engage in a new research project, that included testing curative proteins into rats.