Faculty at the State University of New York at Stony Brook know that tomorrow’s top scientists could come from any college in the country. But unless those future scientists get a chance to tinker with the tools of science in research projects of their own, they may never know how exhilarating—and attainable—such a career path can be.
In 2007, the university expanded its HHMI-funded summer Research Fellows Program to include not just Stony Brook undergraduates but students throughout the nation. The outreach focused on students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds or from groups that are traditionally underrepresented in the sciences. “Many don’t come from a family background where their parents have gone to college, so they don’t have that embedded in their daily lives. It’s not part of their vision,” says David Bynum, a professor of biochemistry and cell biology. “We see that change because we bring them on campus. Our goal is to enlarge their vision of what’s possible with their life.”
With a portion of its new $1.5 million grant, the university will expand the program to another underserved group: students enrolled in New York’s community colleges. The university will recruit 15 academically talented community college students as research fellows each summer. Statistically, students who attend community colleges are more likely to leave school than similarly qualified students who attend more selective institutions. Stony Brook wants to challenge these students before that happens, Bynum says. He hopes the research exposure will help encourage them to enroll in a university and eventually pursue postgraduate studies in science.
“There is a ton of talent out there that chooses to get educated [at community colleges] because of financial, family, or logistical reasons, who are skilled enough to do top-level work at the university,” Bynum says. “There are students out there who are passionately interested in science and don’t quite have the opportunity. That’s the kind of talent we would like to attract.”