Tomorrow’s scientists won’t look like they have in past centuries. What has been a predictably homogenous group — overwhelmingly white and male — will one day better reflect the population of the wider world. This has been a long-standing goal at Loyola Marymount University. A new program at the Frank R. Seaver College of Science and Engineering is helping to meet this diversity goal. Access and support are keys to diversity, and the new ACCESS program has given a cohort of minority freshmen a running start to their college careers, inspiring students who previously may not have considered wearing lab coats in their professions. ACCESS, which was launched in summer 2009, invites 18 incoming LMU freshmen to campus for an intense, three-week residential program before the start of classes. The all-expenses paid program helps them make the transition from high school science classes to the demands of university academics. ACCESS — A Community Committed to Excellence in Scientific Scholarship — is underwritten by LMU alumnus Thomas Hynes ’59, and his wife, Marlene. The urgency of bringing diversity to the sciences was underscored in an August 2009 Inside Higher Education article. It was 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. In addition, underrepresented minorities — not including Asians — earned just 16 percent of all bachelor’s degrees in science and engineering in 2004.
48 percent female enrollment
For fall 2009 at the Seaver College of Science and Engineering, with 1,146 undergraduate and graduate students, 21 percent of the students were Hispanic; 18 percent were Asian/Pacific Islanders; 8 percent African-American; and 48 percent of all students were women. Ed Mosteig, director of ACCESS and associate professor of mathematics, said he selected a geographically, racially, ethnically and socio-economically diverse group of students, one that was also gender-balanced, to participate in the program. About the first day of school, Mosteig said, “I could hear them from all the way down the hall, laughing and acting like they had known each other for 10 years. I was delighted by how well they bonded.” After completing the summer program, the students met every Friday during the fall semester. Loyola Marymount Program Builds Diversity in Science and Engineering 10 Frank R. Seaver College of Science and Engineering cse.lmu.edu 11 At the start of the program, Mosteig and David Berube, assistant professor of physics and ACCESS program coordinator, had two primary goals in mind: to give the students a taste of the academic rigor that will be expected of them; and to introduce the students to the university’s resources. “We have commuters among our students,” Mosteig said, “and they were able to find work study programs and other resources they might not have heard about.” Mosteig said that last summer’s initial program was a “bit like academic boot camp.” In early sessions, the students developed written and verbal communication skills in the sciences by working in small groups on a project. The students created predictive models and wrote papers on their work. They also mixed in community service by presenting their projects to middle-school students. The end of the three-week session was marked by a banquet, with family members invited, where the students gave PowerPoint presentations of their work.
program has good results
Mosteig and Berube followed the students’ progress through their first university semester. “We are very pleased; the average GPA [for the 18 freshmen] was 3.46,” Mosteig said. The success of the program has Mosteig planning for the next group of freshmen. And next time he and Berube will have even more help. “It is exciting to see that two of this past year’s students will be teaching assistants for the next session,” Mosteig said. A recent gathering of the National Institutes of Health focused on “Enhancing Diversity in Science.” The event was held in response to a number of reports documenting the decreasing number of students from underrepresented minorities who pursue careers in science. The report from that gathering noted that “leakages in the science pipeline for minority students and professionals happen at various stages, but especially within higher education.” Because of Loyola Marymount’s ACCESS program, freshman Jennifer Rodriguez approached her first day of college with excitement, not fear: “I thought, ‘I am ready for this – I can do it. I am not alone.’ ” And she is succeeding – earning top marks in all her classes for her first semester. Rodriguez is the first in her family to attend college. A full-time student, she juggles caring for three siblings, working part time in the science lab and commuting approximately 25 miles from her East L.A. home to LMU. For ACCESS cohorts, this first university event in their academic journey was their introduction to cura personalis — recognizing and caring for each student — and other characteristics of an Ignatian education. They were also encouraged to consider their place in the whole learning process. “I told them that they have this community, and they have a responsibility to bring others into their community,” Mosteig said.