Feature

An APA-administered program that helps talented ethnic-minority undergraduates make the transition to graduate school has garnered renewed funding from the Division of Minority Opportunities in Research (MORE) of the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS).

The program, administered by APA's Office of Ethnic Minority Affairs, funds five regional centers that bring together major research institutions with predominantly minority two- and four-year colleges to shepherd promising students into the biomedical sciences. With the funding renewal, the APA/NIGMS project will continue its efforts to team students with mentors to study such issues as cultural competence, HIV disclosure and cardiovascular risk factors, and to help them make connections with doctoral programs. It even funds their application to graduate school.

The three-year, $1.6 million grant will also allow the program to more closely track how its efforts are paying off. It will, for example, keep tabs on whether project participants eventually go to graduate school and get jobs in the biomedical sciences.

"We are beginning to see that tracking students as they progress through the educational pipeline not only provides rich project outcome data," says Bertha Holliday, PhD, who heads up the APA/NIGMS collaboration as director of APA's Office on Ethnic Minority Affairs. "It also serves to further strengthen the relationship between students and their project mentor, and this in turn seems to increase students' resolve to continue their education and research."

Working at the seams

Since its inception in 1996, the APA/NIGMS project has garnered $3.93 million to test its approach--developed by APA's Commission on Ethnic Minority Recruitment, Retention and Training in Psychology--to increasing minority students in the biomedical sciences.

APA's renewed funding reflects its alignment with NIGMS goals, says MORE program officer Adolphus Toliver, PhD. In particular, he says, "the APA project proposes activities for developing minority biomedical research talent in psychology using a systematic approach."

Indeed, the project clusters 14 institutions into five Regional Centers of Excellence charged with strengthening the biomedical links between a major research university and predominantly minority four- and two-year colleges.

For example, in its Western region, the University of California, Los Angeles, has partnered with two-year Santa Monica College and four-year California State University, Dominguez Hills. The institutions use the NIGMS funding to offer mentored research, scholarly presentation experience, workshops, GRE prep courses and networking opportunities. They also help students complete their graduate school applications and fund their travel for interviews with graduate programs.

"That support is really important because many of our students just don't have the money to apply to schools," says Mark Carrier, PhD, chair of the Dominguez Hills psychology department. He notes that since his university doesn't have a PhD program, the NIGMS funding allows minority students in his department to garner the research experience and strong letters of recommendation they might not otherwise have.

For example, Alejandro Morales--one of Carrier's former students--credits the project for swaying him to go to graduate school at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln. Through the program, Morales garnered mentoring as an undergraduate from Carrier and another faculty member, Sylvia Santos, PhD.

At Dominguez Hills, Carrier involved Morales in research on people's levels of confidence in their knowledge about HIV and AIDS as well as helped him prepare for the GRE. Santos, meanwhile, helped Morales through the experience of being a Latino student. Both encouraged him throughout the graduate school application process, Morales says, and helped him find a program that fit his goal of becoming a psychology professor and mentor to ethnic-minority students.

Perhaps the strongest measure of the project's impact is that, even though he's three years into his graduate program, Morales has maintained his close ties with Carrier and Santos--in fact, he calls them his psychology father-figure and mother-figure.

Tracking results

With the new grant, which took effect in August, the APA/NIGMS project will continue such mentoring efforts and also place a new emphasis on tracking how well students make that transition.

"Now that we are in our seventh year, we have some students"--like Morales--"in doctoral programs," says Holliday, "and we need to develop a more sophisticated system for tracking them."

Holliday adds that the program will build on its existing successes, including that:

  • 77 percent of the APA/NIGMS project's community college students have continued on to four-year institutions.

  • 21 percent of students who earned a bachelor's have pursued a master's degree, 8 percent went for a professional degree, and another 28 percent enrolled in a doctoral program.

 

All in all, 46 of the project's 373 participants have enrolled in doctoral programs and 24 have received graduate-level degrees--a measure of the program's success, says Holliday, considering many project participants are still in their undergraduate studies.

Over the next three years, the program will not only track such student outcomes, but also examine the project's impact on its partner institutions, psychology departments and psychology faculty. For example, program administrators will add questions to existing project evaluation forms and create other measures with the goal of comparing outcomes across institutions and regional centers. Moreover, they will readminister a project pretest--originally given to 2,400 students faculty and staff in 1997--to compare results across time.

Further Reading

For more information, visit the NIGMS project.