Sigma—one of the strongest scientific bonds in chemistry or in economics, the sum of parts—also represents Science, Innovation, Growth, Mentorship and Achievement (SIGMA) in a new diversity initiative created by a Duquesne student that has introduced ninth graders to the University’s labs.
The SIGMA Science Mentorship Initiative, created by minority doctoral science student Andre Samuel, concluded its pilot sessions with a recognition ceremony on June 26. For four Saturdays, young students from the Urban Pathways Charter School and Woodland Hills High School conducted lab work, met with mentors, talked about science careers and familiarized themselves with a university setting.
The small-scale goal is to offer these students an experience across at least three summers of their high school careers, adding new ninth graders every year, said Dean David W. Seybert of the Bayer School of Natural and Environmental Sciences.
But the big-picture vision for Samuel and Seybert is to change the complexion of the work force in science careers and science research. Females and minorities are traditionally under-represented, said Seybert, who has testified on higher education’s role in this recruitment process; according to a 2010 Carnegie Corp. study, African-Americans, Hispanics and Native Americans make up 28.5 percent of the population, but only comprise 9.1 percent of college-educated Americans in science and engineering, reports the Tribune-Review.
“I came to realize that the majority of the lack of interest was due to a lack of exposure,” said Samuel, who is on his way to becoming among the 3 percent of science Ph.D.s who are African-Americans. “When I grew up and was going to high school, science courses were very book-taught and book-oriented, with no experiments in class. One of the things that could really grab children’s attention is an experiment where they could say, ‘This is kind of cool!’”
So Samuel, a Washington, D.C., native who stopped his academic career and re-kindled it after a six-year hiatus, knows first-hand some of the hurdles that minority students might face. He wants them to realize that science can open an array of career doors and is an attainable goal.
“One of the reasons that I wanted to do this program is not only to provide an introduction to science; I’m trying to provide them with tools and know-how to accomplish their goals,” Samuel said. “You need somebody to talk to that you can relate to, otherwise, you kind of fall through the cracks, and I think that’s what happened to me. My mother dropped me off at college, and I had no support from my family, no one to talk to who had been through college before. I didn’t even know that I should have taken a prep course to take my SATs! What I want to do is to expose students to the sciences and these principles, but also to have mentors who have gone through some of what they’re going through to guide them when they need it.”
Through the school year, Samuel plans for mentors to lead monthly seminars, discuss their career goals and the steps needed to achieve them and some personal hurdles, so that SIGMA continues to build bonds with the students until the next in-lab summer session.
Samuel, while balancing a marriage and family with his doctorate work in developing a novel antibiotic under Dr. Nancy Trun, carved out time to lay the groundwork and logistics for the program, then recruited former or current undergraduate students as mentors. He also found eight high schoolers curious enough to be on campus at 9 a.m. Saturdays.
They’ve studied the regeneration of planaria worms after some careful incisions, learned that microbes abound in even “clean” places, inhibited bacteria growth with different strengths of antibiotics and, in a favorite experiment, used gram staining techniques to differentiate bacteria.
Samuel draws his reward from overhearing students talking about returning next year and, the ultimate comment: “Man, I can’t wait to get to college if we’re going to do stuff like this!”
“I can see already that Andre’s making a difference with these kids,” said Seybert, who envisions the SIGMA program as another link along the continuum of diversity initiatives in the Bayer School.
Grants Received [May 22, 2013]
Funding totaling $80,869 was recently received by the Bayer School of Natural and Environmental Sciences.
Faculty Spotlight [May 22, 2013]
What have Drs. Kent Moors and Darius D. Prier been up to?
DU in the News [May 2013]
News coverage highlighting Duquesne’s experts and initiatives.
- Grants Received [May 22, 2013]
Mission Accomplished: Living the Spiritan Mission
The University mission informs and enlivens every aspect of University life, but when engaged in daily tasks it’s easy to forget how the mission can manifest itself in the most commonplace ways. Resident Director Adam Wasilko reminds the campus community that living the Spiritan mission is not only achieved through grand gestures, but also through the smallest of everyday actions.
- Mission Accomplished: Living the Spiritan Mission