Now just drive

With academic and financial support covered through Bridge-to-the-Doctorate program, minority students are better poised for graduate-level success

BY JIM H. SMITH

 

photos Born in Colombia, Adriano Garcia ’10, MS ’13, came to Binghamton University from Brooklyn, New York, where his family has lived since 2001. This spring he completed his master’s degree in computer science. His graduate research has focused on development of an autonomous navigation system for a miniature air vehicle, or MAV. With remote image-based sensing and flight control algorithms, the highly sophisticated device, called a “quadcopter,” expands the capacity of such mini-drones to probe dangerous settings such as burning buildings or contaminated nuclear facilities without putting human first-responders in danger.

Californian Kelli Crosby, a master’s candidate in industrial and systems engineering, is wrapping up her thesis on open access scheduling (OAS) for patients at healthcare outpatient clinics. An alternative to traditional scheduling, which books appointments weeks or months in advance, but suffers from high “no-show” rates, OAS schedules patients within one or two days of appointments and decreases the rate of no-shows while improving continuity of care and patient satisfaction rates.

Mikhail Coloma, who completed his undergraduate work in mechanical engineering at the University of Hawaii last year, is intent upon earning his PhD at Binghamton. His research is on numerical and experimental studies of the fluid mechanics in the perivascular space, the essential pathway through which fluid flows in and around the brain. There is evidence that disease related to impaired fluid flow may be a factor in Alzheimer’s disease. Coloma hopes that his research may contribute to improved treatment options.

While areas of research are decidedly different, Garcia, Crosby and Coloma are linked by a common thread. They are three members of Binghamton’s inaugural class of Bridge-to-the-Doctorate (BD) Program students.

The Bridge-to-the-Doctorate is a National Science Foundation initiative that aims to increase the number of minority students who obtain a PhD degree in a science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) field. It is an extension of the Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (LSAMP) program, which was first funded at SUNY institutions in 1996 to increase the number of underrepresented minority students in STEM fields. At Binghamton, until recently, it was known as the Binghamton Success Program.

“Through LSAMP and Bridge-to-the-Doctorate, the Watson School is working to address the national need to increase participation by students from underrepresented groups in STEM and graduate degree programs,” says Peter J. Partell, MA ’97, PhD ’99, associate dean for academic affairs and administration, and co-PI of the LSAMP BD at Binghamton.

It’s working.

In the past 16 years, the enrollment of underrepresented minority students in SUNY STEM programs has increased by almost 400 percent. Some 5,000 students have earned bachelor’s degrees. Nearly 700 have been awarded master’s degrees. And over 150 have received a PhD. “LSAMP has taken a leadership role in STEM curricular reform and has acted as an agent of change on a range of issues related to the needs of underrepresented minority STEM students,” says David Ferguson, distinguished service professor and associate provost, diversity and affirmative action, at Stony Brook University, co-PI and director of the SUNY LSAMP Alliance.

Declaring the program “highly successful,” he says, “LSAMP has provided us with an effective means to attract minority students to STEM programs. Now, with Bridge-to-the-Doctorate, we can encourage those same students to enroll in graduate education.”

“LSAMP helped tremendously during my undergraduate years at Binghamton,” says Giancarlo “John” Cuadra, who graduated with a BS in biological sciences in 2004 and completed his PhD in biology in 2012. “It gave me the necessary strategies and tools to maintain a high GPA.”

Cuadra, who is currently completing post-doctoral work at the University of Florida, credits the collegial environment engendered by LSAMP. “Meeting other students in the same condition as myself gave me a sense of belonging and the feeling that ‘I’m not alone’ when it came to stress and hard work week by week.”

In order to qualify for BD, applicants must have participated in a LSAMP program and earned a bachelor’s degree in a STEM discipline with 3.0 GPA or better, must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident, must have been accepted in a STEM graduate program, and must wish to pursue a PhD in a STEM discipline. If accepted, a BD fellow is not obliged to complete his or her PhD at Binghamton, or anywhere else for that matter, but, “We hope that they will earn their doctorate and remain in academia or do research,” says Shanise Kent, associate director of LSAMP and the other co-PI of LSAMP BD at Binghamton.

Students selected to participate receive some very attractive incentives, including tuition, student health insurance, and waiver of fees for the first two years, plus a $30,000 student stipend annually for the first two years. “They also get to participate in professional conferences and meetings, receive faculty mentoring, and get enriched academic services and support, including links to research and professional opportunities,” she adds. “We provide a diverse portfolio of support aimed at helping these students complete their degree and gain employment.”

There were 26 applicants when Binghamton’s BD program was announced in 2011. Last fall the program achieved a full cohort of 12 students.

“The Bridge-to-the-Doctorate program really takes a lot of pressure off students and allows you to concentrate on your education,” says Crosby, who completed her undergraduate work at Northeastern University and then worked for a defense manufacturer for two-and-a-half years before returning to school. “I wanted to get an advanced degree and now I am considering going on for my doctorate. I’d be working on my master’s degree even if this program didn’t exist, but the Bridge program has made it much easier.”

Garcia, who moved to Seattle after completing his master’s work, concurs. “I would certainly be in graduate school,” he says, “but getting my master’s degree would have taken me longer. I would have needed a part-time job and that would have meant I would have needed to reduce my course load each semester. This has really reduced the burden.”

Garcia plans to enroll in a doctoral program once he gets settled on the West coast.

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