Defense Department Awards $3.78 Million to STEM Program for Minority Students

Defense Department Awards $3.78 Million to STEM Program for Minority Students

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“Being in this program empowers students,” says Charles Knibb, STEMPREP director of academic affairs, SMU research professor, and former surgeon.

Moses Williams, executive director, founded the program in 1990 when he was director of admissions for Temple University School of Medicine in Philadelphia.

“As a gatekeeper, I realized there were not a lot of minorities being considered,” he says. “I wanted to change that.” He compares the program to training young athletes: Identify talent early and then nurture it through practice and coaching.

Eighth-grader Beatriz Coronado of Marietta, Georgia, says she would be spending the summer taking care of her little brothers if she wasn’t at SMU as part of STEMPREP. Instead, she recently completed her favorite lab so far, an enzyme-linked immuno-assay simulation that detects and measures antibodies in the blood. She plans to become a family physician.

Dallas eighth-grader Tomisin Ogunfunmi says he didn’t know he could be so independent until he spent six weeks on the SMU campus at STEMPREP last summer. Now he looks forward to next summer when he will work in a Philadelphia university research lab with a scientist as a mentor. He plans to pursue a combination MD/PhD to become a biomedical engineering researcher, possibly at a university.

After participants in STEMPREP finish the junior high component, they spend their senior high and college summers working in university, U.S. government, and private research laboratories in Philadelphia; Bethesda, Maryland; Seattle; Toronto; and Vancouver.

Taisha Husbands, who graduated from SMU in May with degrees in psychology and chemistry, joined the STEMPREP program as an eighth-grader.

“I’ve known since I was 4 that I wanted to be a doctor,” says Husbands, who is from St. Thomas, Virgin Islands. “But I come from a family of teachers and police officers. I thought this program would help me reach my goal.”

Husbands starts medical school in August at the University of Southern California. This summer she is teaching science to current STEMPREP seventh and eighth graders and lives with them in a residence hall on campus. She hasn’t forgotten what it’s like to be an eighth-grader wrestling with college-level material, so she developed an evening study session for students who wanted extra help.

“When I was in eighth grade, one of the STEMPREP teachers sat down with me at lunch every day to help me with the material,” she says. “Helping these students is one of those pay it forward things.”