The University of Iowa was recently awarded a second-phase, $565,494 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to continue advancing recruitment and retention of underrepresented minorities in undergraduate STEM academic programs.

The UI grant is part of a $5 million mother grant awarded to the Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (LSAMP) Iowa-Illinois-Nebraska STEM Partnership for Innovation in Research and Education (IINSPIRE) alliance of 16 two- and four-year colleges and universities in the Midwest, formed in 2011.

The UI’s portion of the grant includes a focus on campus-specific student experiences that support student progress in STEM majors, and research in micro- and macro-level influences on students’ STEM experiences. A key program in developing and sustaining minority undergraduate research, LSAMP IINSPIRE is supported by the UI Office of the Vice President for Research and Economic Development.

“The first step in doing revolutionary research is asking the right questions,” said Dan Reed, UI Vice President of Research and Economic Development. “Diversity of experiences and perspectives is vital to a robust and thriving research enterprise, whether in the academy or outside it.”

UI LSAMP IINSPIRE Campus Directors Lori Adam, a lecturer in the Department of Biology, and Professor Vincent Rodgers, Department of Physics and Astronomy, both of whom also are project directors of the Iowa Biosciences Academy program, lead the student development portion of the grant. They are working closely with faculty at two-year programs like Kirkwood Community College to bridge the transition to four-year programs including having the necessary general education math requirements, managing the transfer of credits and guiding a transition of mindset though mentorships, career counseling and student development.

“A lot of the people who want access to university degrees and Ph.D.s are now coming in through community colleges,” said Rodgers. “It’s time to take that transition seriously. Usually it’s not academic challenges. In a sense you have to show students what their opportunities are on a campus like this and cement the idea into their heads that they can do these things.”

UI LSAMP IINSPIRE students are supported through research lab stipends, mentoring, student counseling, graduate school preparation workshops, and a yearlong mentored research experience with UI faculty culminating in a professional research presentation. UI LSAMP IINSPIRE collaborates with the faculty in the College of Education as well as the Colleges of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Engineering, Public Health, Medicine, and Pharmacy. Dominique Brooks, a multicultural specialist in the UI Center for Diversity and Enrichment, works directly with the directors and the students for broader campus opportunities. 

“It really does change your trajectory to be in one of these more intimate environments where you’re getting hands on mentoring from a faculty member,” said Adams, who credits an undergraduate mentorship with leading her into a STEM field. “Transfer students and students of color face a lot of barriers. But this is a targeted opportunity at a big research institution and we are working to help them take advantage of that.”

The grant also supports a multi-institution study of IINSPIRE led by Iowa State University (ISU). College of Education Professor Saba Ali is coordinating with colleagues at ISU to collect and analyze quantitative data from the UI.

The full alliance of IINSPIRE LSAMP two-year and four-year colleges and universities includes: Augustana College (Illinois), Des Moines Area Community College, Doane University, Eastern Iowa Community College District, Grinnell College, Hawkeye Community College, Iowa State University, Iowa Valley Community College District, Kirkwood Community College, Little Priest Tribal College, Luther College, Nebraska Wesleyan University, University of Iowa, University of Northern Iowa, Upper Iowa University, and Wartburg College. ISU serves as the lead institution.

The Office of the Vice President for Research and Economic Development provides resources and support to researchers and scholars at the University of Iowa and to businesses across Iowa with the goal of forging new frontiers of discovery and innovation and promoting a culture of creativity that benefits the campus, the state, and the world. More at http://research.uiowa.edu, and on Twitter: @DaretoDiscover.