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National Science Foundation backs JMU program for community college students

jmuCommunity college students from Virginia and around the country will be recruited for a summer research experience run by the James Madison University Biology Department beginning this summer.

JMU professors Corey Cleland and Bisi Velayudhan received $359,768 from the National Science Foundation to run the 10-week program for the next three summers, with room for 10 community college/junior college students each summer. The program is especially interested in recruiting students from under-represented groups in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) and students who are first-generation college students.

In their grant application, the professors stated that community college students constitute 29% of all college students, a number that is increasing, and 45% of those graduating from four-year institutions are community college transfers. While only 20% of community college students transfer to four-year institutions, 80% of those who do complete the bachelor’s degree, which underscores the benefit of transferring and the value of developing programs to facilitate successful transition to four-year institutions.

The professors also state that community colleges enroll higher proportions of under-represented groups than four-year institutions, with 30 percent (17 percent Hispanic, 13 percent Black) earning associates degrees from community colleges versus 21 percent (11 percent Hispanic, 10 percent Black) obtaining a bachelor’s degree.

Furthermore, first-generation students are three times more likely to attend community colleges than four-year institutions and twice as likely to be Hispanic or Black. STEM fields, in particular, are under-represented in community colleges.

“We envision a transformative experience for community college student participants that are continuing their journey through STEM, where their distinctive summer REU experiences in research, data science and engagement with our scientific community will enable them to better identify academic and career goals and provide them with tools to succeed,” Cleland said.

Students selected for the program will acquire data science skills that will provide them with tools, such as data handling in Excel, R programming and statistical and visualization methods, experience with applying data science in research and diverse aspects biology, and appreciation of the value of data science both inside and outside of STEM.

“These skills will be especially and broadly valuable to community college students as they transfer to four-year institutions and seek graduate research or employment opportunities,” Cleland said.

Each REU student will earn a $6,000 stipend, will reside on campus and will work individually with a faculty mentor drawn from one of two departments: biology or chemistry and biochemistry. Each student will pursue an independent research question within the mentor’s research laboratory, while engaging in shared discussion of literature and research methods with faculty, peer mentors and the laboratory’s other student members.

This summer’s program will run May 23-July 30. The 2021 program will be subject to state and university COVID-19 protocols. Research projects will be done in person, but workshops and seminars may be conducted virtually.

More information, including an application, are available on the biology REU website.


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