View of stained glass with the Georgetown University seal

Georgetown Launches Science Program Focused on First-Generation College Students

May 2, 2016 – Georgetown announced today a new program designed to expand opportunities for students from traditionally underserved communities pursuing studies in the sciences.

The Regents Science Scholars Program, funded by a $1.2 million investment from alumni Joe Zimmel (C’75) and Alison Lohrfink Blood (B’81), leverages the success of Georgetown’s innovation and efforts to address the critical shortage of underserved and first-generation college students who successfully complete degrees in the sciences.

“We are deeply grateful to Joe and Alison, for their generosity and dedication to deepening our university’s commitment to access and affordability through the Regents Science Scholars Program,” says Georgetown President John J. DeGioia. “Their shared vision will enable us to further our efforts to support many of the most talented young women and men with a strong interest in science and prepare them for successful careers after graduation.”

undergraduate students conducting experiment in a lab

Georgetown students conduct lab research on campus.

Addressing a National Challenge

The program takes its name from Regents Hall – where many of the university’s sciences are housed – and Georgetown’s Board of Regents.

Regents Science Scholars Program donors Zimmel and Lohrfink Blood currently serve on the board, which provides counsel to the university president and administration and provides leadership in philanthropic support to Georgetown. 

All parties involved saw the program as an opportunity to meet a national challenge since the White House has been steadfast in its call to action for STEM education. President Obama launched his Education to Innovate campaign to expand opportunities in the math and sciences.  

“We're going to expand opportunities for all our young people – including women and minorities who too often have been underrepresented in scientific and technological fields, but who are no less capable of succeeding in math and science and pursuing careers that will help improve our lives and grow our economy,” Obama said during the launch of the Education to Innovate campaign.

Biology professor Heidi Elmendorf, who will serve as the director and lead researcher for the Regents Science Scholars Program, said the program is one of the ways Georgetown is addressing the issue.

“The sciences piece is really critical, not just for Georgetown. I think it’s critical for our society,” says Elmendorf, director of science education outreach at Georgetown. “We know that access to higher education, particularly at elite institutions, has been limited for first-generation students and that access to careers in the STEM field has been even more constrained.” 

Building on Academic Innovation

The Regents Science Scholars program incorporates the academic innovation of the Designing the Future(s) Initiative with the integrated support of the decades-old college success programs: Georgetown’s Community Scholars Program (CSP) and the Georgetown Scholarship Program (GSP).

Designing the Future(s) is an integrative initiative engaging the whole Georgetown community with new ways to deliver the education we value into the future through experimentation and proven strategies.

Randall Bass“Thanks to the $1.2 million investment, the Future(s) initiative will not only fund the program, it also will serve as a five-year research and development project to inform us of effective practices regarding the students’ pathways to successes in the sciences,” says vice provost for education Randall Bass, who leads Designing the Future(s). 

Elmendorf says she’s looking forward to the results of the research and development due to the critical nature of the outcomes.

Tapping Into Two Existing Success Programs

large group of students stand on the steps of White-Gravenor Hall

The Community Scholars Program, now in its third decade, provides a full range of academic and social support for the college transition of a select cohort of students who are from underrepresented communities.

“The new Regents Science Scholars program fills a critical need, coupling proven strategies of our college success programs – CSP and GSP – with innovative academic programming to address a challenge in a way few have attempted,” says Elmendorf.

The Community Scholars Program (CSP) now in its third decade, provides a full range of academic and social support for the transition of a select cohort of students who are from underrepresented communities to college. The program includes a five-week academic summer program prior to the first year, customized orientation and community-building activities, and targeted programming.

“This early academic intervention allows our Community Scholars to learn how to thrive at Georgetown,” says Charlene Brown-McKenzie, director of the Center for Multicultural Equity and Access. Brown-McKenzie’s office oversees CSP and academic support services.

Group of students stand close together

The Georgetown Scholarship Program provides access to a vast alumni network with hundreds of volunteers, 75 peer mentors, an optional pre-orientation program and career and academic help available to more than 625 current Georgetown students.

The Georgetown Scholarship Program (GSP) also enhances the university’s college success programming for students from underserved communities. Its resources include access to a vast alumni network with hundreds of volunteers, 75 peer mentors, an optional pre-orientation program and career and academic help available to more than 625 current Georgetown students.

“We have a dedicated space for our students on campus to maintain close ties. Our program illustrates the impact relationships with alumni and peers can have on the success of students who come to Georgetown with limited resources,” says GSP director Missy Foy. “Thanks to philanthropy, our students have access to an emergency fund for unexpected expenses such as medical bills and winter coats as well as grocery grants when the campus dining hall is closed for holidays.”

The program even provides accommodations for GSP students who can’t make it home for winter break while the university is closed.

 

Academic Confidence

Jennifer LaPier stands in front a sign reading "School of Nursing and Health Studies"

Jennifer LaPier (NHS'16), a first-generation college student majoring in human science says the Regents Science Scholars Program will give GSP and CSP students the confidence needed to stay on course to graduate as pre-med and science majors.

GSP student Jennifer LaPier (NHS’16) of South Glastonbury, Connecticut is a first-generation college student majoring in human science at Georgetown. She plans to attend medical school after graduation.

“Aside from the financial aid that makes Georgetown a reality for so many students, GSP demonstrates cura personalis by providing social, emotional and professional support for all of its students,” LaPier says. “The staff at GSP truly cares about each student and helps us make it to graduation and achieve our professional goals thereafter.” 

The Regents scholars program will give GSP and CSP students the confidence needed to stay on course to graduate as pre-med and science majors, says LaPier. 

“This added confidence also will give GSP students the time and skills to pursue more work-study, internship, research and clinical opportunities to enrich the work they are doing in the classroom,” says LaPier.

Together, CSP and GSP have a proven record of success. National numbers indicate only 11 percent of students from underrepresented communities graduate within six years of matriculation. At Georgetown, about 90 percent of students who participate in CSP and 97 percent of GSP students graduate – a percentage that is consistently equal to or exceeds Georgetown’s overall graduation rate.

Scholar Selection and Support

Regents Science Scholars will be selected from CSP students who are interested in science majors and have completed an intensive summer residency and their first academic year in good standing.

Building on student success in CSP, participants will be invited to become Regents Science Scholars based on their academic standing at the end of their first year. At this time, students will be offered specially designed programming during their second summer, which is an important innovative component of the initiative, using an online learning environment to reinforce science principles and ways of thinking, and to sustain a sense of community.

“We know from research how critical the bridging summer from first to second year can be; but we also know how important it is for many students to go home during the summer. We want to explore if we can meet both needs by building on innovations with online learning and personalized instruction,” says Bass.

Additionally, the program establishes peer and faculty mentoring communities to help prepare students for Georgetown’s rigorous curriculum in these fields, and each Regent Science Scholar will receive a $500 fellowship.

Brown-McKenzie says the new Regents Science Scholars Program will enhance CSP since, until recently, CSP focused on an intensive, credit bearing critical reading and writing course and, within the last few years, a second summer session class.

“An intensive cohort-based environment for science majors will help improve retention among the bright, talented students attracted to this program,” Brown-McKenzie says.

Elmendorf agrees.

Learning From Our Community

“That retention impacts who in the country ends up with degrees in science, and who makes up the next generation of scientists, researchers, applied scientists, biomedical scientists, engineers, educators and people shaping science policy,” she says.

Heidi Elmendorf“Without this type of intervention,” she continues, “we risk continuing to have very little diversity in these fields – and lose the perspective and intellect that diversity would bring.”

Elmendorf says a sure sign of success will be seeing greater numbers of first generation Georgetown students, not just enrolling in science majors but thriving and graduating from those majors and moving into science careers.

She also hopes to one day see more students “thinking that science is an endeavor where human diversity is necessary for excellence.”

“This type of initiative is just exactly what it means to be at a Jesuit institution,” Elmendorf says. “Thinking expansively about who we invite to this campus is key. It’s about more than just educating scholars coming from diverse, underrepresented backgrounds. It’s about all of us being educated from this experience. We learn not just from disciplinary knowledge. We learn from our community.”