A career in scientific research might seem like a long shot for students at Montgomery College, a community college in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, D.C. Many are the first in their families to attend college and they may never have even met a scientist. But a new HHMI-funded program at Georgetown University is designed to show these students that a scientific life is not only attainable, but appealing. The goal of the program, which will include coursework and research, is to motivate students to pursue further study in science by continuing on to a four-year institution once they complete the two-year program at Montgomery College.
Georgetown has received HHMI funding since 1994 for its own undergraduate research program, which continues to grow. The university is no stranger to the wider community, having used the same grants to develop mentoring programs for at-risk students in D.C.’s urban middle and high schools. But the relationship with Montgomery College is new. "We have a mission to figure out a way of reaching populations of people who are not well integrated into the scientific community," says Georgetown's Maria Donoghue, and so Montgomery College seemed a natural partner. Its 35,000 students represent 170 countries, and many are squeezing classes into busy schedules that include full-time jobs.
Starting this fall, a few dozen students at the college’s campus in Germantown, Maryland, will be introduced to the program in a seminar in which they'll discuss hot scientific issues framed by newspaper and magazine articles written for popular audiences. "What you want to do with these students is give them the sense that they're capable, not a sense that, 'oh, this is too complicated for me,'" says Donoghue.
The following summer, eight students from the seminar will spend 11 weeks on the Georgetown campus. There, they will share apartments with Georgetown's HHMI-funded undergraduate research scholars, work in research labs, and discuss science at evening salons. "It's about modeling an intellectual life," says Donoghue. The program will also offer mentorship and technical assistance to students applying to four-year colleges, in hopes that they'll go on to graduate programs and careers in research.