Cal Poly Pomona is poised to restart one of its signature programs for getting underrepresented minority students on track to enter doctoral programs in biomedical research.
From 2009-2014, the RISE Program offered unprecedented opportunities to students in the form of workshops, paid research, faculty mentoring and GRE preparation courses.
After a yearlong hiatus, the program returns to campus this year, thanks to a $2.6 million grant from the National Institutes of Health, which will fund RISE for the next five years.
“The goal here is to increase the number of underrepresented minority students going into PhD programs,” says Program Director and Biology Professor Jill Adler-Moore. “This is to acquaint them with research to see if it’s a career they’re interested in.”
Biology professors Angel Valdes and Nancy Buckley will serve as the program’s co-director, and faculty and student mentoring coordinator, respectively
The paucity of underrepresented minority students participating in PhD STEM programs is significant.. Adler-Moore says while such groups comprise approximately 25-30 percent of the U.S. population, they only make up 6-8 percent of the pool of candidates for PhDs in STEM fields.
During the program’s previous run, about two-thirds of RISE’s students successfully transitioned into a PhD program, Adler-Moore says. That success is in part due to the program’s emphasis on having research mentors that got closely involved with each student, serving as both an academic mentor and sometimes as a liaison with their families. The students who did not go on into a PhD program are either working on some other advanced degree or doing scientific research.
Without family support, the students have a much rockier path, she says, relating the story of a recent RISE graduate who is entering a PhD program in fall 2015.
“He had been supporting himself throughout his academic career through barbering, with no family support,” she says. “This was a kid who never would have gone that way if not for the RISE program. He’s just one of so many students.”
When families understand where the program can lead, Adler-Moore says, they are more likely to support their children through the process.
“One of the things that we found is that the families don’t really understand what a PhD is and where the career path leads,” she says. “To address this, in the present grant, we’re having two family days, a family day symposium, and a lab visit for the parents.”