By: Stefanie Dion Jones
Patrice Hubert ’12 (CANR) has always been interested in science and health, but couldn’t handle the sight of blood or the notion of pain – a trait she suspected might get in the way of her career plans.
“I always wanted to help people, but I thought the only way I could really do it was if I became a doctor,” says Hubert, a recent graduate who ultimately decided against attending medical school and found a different way to pursue her love of the sciences.
Thanks to the Bridge to the Doctorate, a new fellowship program recently launched at the University with support from the National Science Foundation (NSF), the 22-year-old Connecticut native is now not only aiming to earn a Ph.D. in nutritional sciences, but will do so knowing that the funding for her first two years of graduate study has already been secured.
Expertise in high demand
From physicists and microbiologists to mechanical engineers and astronomers, advanced education in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics – also known as STEM – is in greater demand than ever before. STEM jobs have grown three times faster than non-STEM jobs over the past decade, and STEM workers are earning 26 percent more than their non-STEM counterparts, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economics and Statistics Administration.
Yet the number of students from underrepresented minorities seeking advanced degrees in these fields remains low. Underrepresented students today comprise less than 1 percent of Ph.D.’s conferred in the U.S. in the hard STEM disciplines, says Joy Erickson, coordinator of the Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (LSAMP) Leadership and Academic Enhancement Program and an academic assistant for the University who works to recruit and retain students in the STEM fields from kindergarten through graduate school.
This past fall, UConn received $1 million in funding from the NSF to support LSAMP’s Bridge to the Doctorate program, which will provide fellowships for dedicated students from underrepresented minority backgrounds who, like Hubert, are pursuing graduate studies specifically in STEM. To be eligible for the Bridge to the Doctorate fellowship, students also must have previously participated in LSAMP, a nationwide program that strives to increase the number of underrepresented students completing bachelor’s degrees in the STEM fields.
At UConn, the LSAMP program has been in place for the past 12 years, during which time Erickson and her colleagues have not only more than quadrupled the number of underrepresented students graduating in the STEM disciplines, but also have seen those students maintain a graduation rate upwards of 90 percent.