This is a unique time for scientists and society. As scientists, we must explain how our work (and taxpayer dollars) helps our communities beyond the promise of new knowledge. We must also make sure that students from all backgrounds have the opportunity, preparation, and network to become future scientists, doctors, and for that matter, professionals in any field. We already possess a powerful resource to achieve both goals—our infrastructure, complete with super-idealistic and optimistic faculty, students, postdocs, and research staff.
For 11 years, the Johns Hopkins Initiative for Careers in Science and Medicine (CSM; https://csm.cellbio.jhmi.edu) has leveraged this resource to build and evolve an outreach initiative for students (“scholars”) from low-income backgrounds. Indeed, our scholars must meet two criteria: in addition to having a low-income background (no more than twice the federal poverty level), scholars must also be educationally under-resourced (e.g., first-generation college, high school where majority are eligible for Free and Reduced Meals Program, or single parent household). The overarching CSM program includes specific programs for fifth-graders, high school students, undergraduates, and post-baccalaureates, and has collectively hosted over 400 scholars to date.
Students Thrive in Summer Internships
How did this start? Eleven years ago, through my family’s involvement with Boys Hope Girls Hope of Baltimore (BHGH; https://bhghbaltimore.org), two BHGH scholars came on board for summer internships in our research labs; my lab hosted one, and we placed the other in a colleague’s lab. Through our interactions, we got a glimpse of some of the challenges faced by students growing up in low-income households and witnessed their amazing growth during eight short weeks. Members of my lab became passionate about how to build this program to better meet scholar needs, with the goal of bending their career trajectories decisively upward. Our lab team of graduate students, postdocs, and technician and founding director Cathy Kabacoff met at lunch nearly every day for the next year, discussing how the program should operate, its activities and goals, metrics of success, and the timeline for its execution. We then secured some institutional resources, and that year our Summer Academic Research Experience (SARE; now directed by Laura Murphy) for high school students was born.
Serving Scholars at All Levels
Over the next few years, we expanded from two to nine scholars per year. By then, one of our first scholars was nearing graduation from college. He was aiming for medical school but needed a little more development to be ready. This inspired us to consider post-baccalaureate training for our program. We secured a federal (Health and Human Services) Health Careers Opportunity Program grant, which allowed us to expand in several ways. First, we included a sister program for high school scholars called Biophysics Research for Baltimore Teens (BRBT, directed by Jungsan Sohn), initially inspired by SARE and founded by the Biophysics faculty at Johns Hopkins. Second, we created a 10-week summer research program for eligible undergraduates nationwide, the CSM Summer Internship Program (CSM-SIP, directed by Katherine Wilson). Finally, we created a two-year research-intensive post-baccalaureate program, the Doctoral Diversity Program (DDP, directed by Deidra Crews). A few years later we added the one-week Fun with Science Camp for fifth graders (FwSC, founded by Jie Xiao, now directed by Bin Wu), rounding out the full CSM Initiative. Because they are minors, the vast majority of fifth-grade and high school scholars are recruited from the Baltimore area, although we hosted one scholar from Atlanta and two from BHGH in New Orleans. By contrast we accept undergraduate and post-baccalaureate scholars from across the nation, including all 50 states, U.S. Territories, and Tribes.
To identify scholars, we use a variety of methods appropriate for each stage of training. For fifth grade and high school, we work with community partners, e.g., BHGH Baltimore, SEED School of Maryland, Green Street Academy, Baltimore Polytechnic Institute, and many others, to identify scholars. High school through post-baccalaureate scholars undergo a rigorous application and admissions process, including interviews. Demand for these opportunities is so great that the acceptance rates for our undergraduate and post-baccalaureate programs are 3%–5%. In other words, admission into this outreach program is as, or more, difficult than admission into medical, graduate, and MD/PhD programs at Hopkins and many other places. Clearly, more such programs are needed.
Measures of Success
So far, we have served 174 fifth-graders (FwSC), 152 high school students, 55 CSM-SIP scholars, and 27 DDP scholars. Significantly, over 83% of our high schoolers (92% of SARE Scholars) matriculated into four-year programs, where 59% chose STEM majors. Our high schoolers have matriculated into over 30 colleges and universities across the eastern half of the United States. Of our high schoolers who have reached at least four years post-high school graduation, we currently have a ~50% college graduation rate, and are on track to reach ~80%. This compares pretty favorably to the national 14% college completion rate for students from low-income backgrounds.
Over 40% of our undergraduate (CSM-SIP) scholars have matriculated into medical or graduate school, with 25% returning to our post-baccalaureate DDP program, emphasizing the importance of a multi-level pipeline. Over 70% of our DDP alumni have matriculated into MD, MD/PhD, and PhD programs, and the others are still working in STEM. We now have CSM alumni in graduate and/or medical training at Hopkins, Stanford, Harvard, Vanderbilt, Brown, Baylor, Emory, Ohio State, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Albert Einstein, and many other institutions.
Mentorship Is a Key
The keys to success include providing all scholars with intensive mentorship, alongside the research experience, and the younger scholars really benefit from structured academic development activities. Additionally, our high school, undergraduate, and post-baccalaureate scholars all participate in a “Lunch and Learn” seminar series where they hear about the lives, career paths, and research of Hopkins faculty and scientists from diverse backgrounds, as well as alumni who have entered industry.
As an example of how one program operates, our SARE scholars spend 30% of each day working on academic skills (writing, math, science, and bioethics) and 70% working with a doctoral student or postdoctoral fellow mentor on a research project. Mentorship is the key opportunity for scholars to form a bond with someone who is two to three steps ahead in their career and personally invested in the scholar’s development. These bonds can last well beyond their time in the lab, and, in some cases, for years. SARE and DDP scholars come together to present their research in an end-of-summer poster presentation and reception event that is well attended by the Hopkins, Baltimore, business, and government communities. This event is the crescendo for SARE scholars, since much of our programming is designed to prepare them for this presentation. Standing up and explaining their discoveries to a broad and diverse audience using a new, scientific language that they began learning only eight weeks earlier, and in a manner that is accessible to scientists, family members, and friends alike, is a huge accomplishment. The pride of our scholars and their mentors and families is palpable.
We love our science and our outreach. Integrating them together has been extraordinary, and we encourage other researchers to do the same.
The CSM Initiative has been funded by Johns Hopkins University and School of Medicine, Health Resources and Services Administration, Thomas Wilson Foundation, United Way of Central Maryland, and private donors.
If you are interested in learning more or contributing, please reach out to Douglas Robinson (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Katie Sullivan, Associate Director of Development, Institute for Basic Biomedical Sciences, Johns Hopkins School of Medicine (email@example.com).
A CSM video is available at https://bit.ly/2ngsM4V.
About the Author:
Douglas Robinson is a professor in the Department of Cell Biology at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.