Giving doctoral students a head start

The Graduate College will use a $20,000 grant to start a summer transition program for underrepresented minority students in science, technology, engineering and math. UIC Photo Services

For six students, graduate school is about to start a little sooner.

Starting this summer, the doctoral students will get a jumpstart on their studies, thanks to an award given to the university.

The Graduate College received the 2012 Award for Innovation in Promoting Success in Graduate Education, given by the Educational Testing Service and Council of Graduate Schools.

The award was given for the Graduate College’s proposed Promoting Success in STEM Graduate Education (PASSAGE) Scholars Program.

With the award comes a two-year, $20,000 grant for a summer transition program for underrepresented minority students who are pursuing doctoral degrees in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) disciplines. The campus has committed an additional $10,000 for the program.

A team of faculty members and Graduate College administrators is organizing a competitive application process for PASSAGE.

Students selected for the program will live on campus, receive mentoring and professional development, and begin work on academic research projects.

“Incoming doctoral students can come to campus before they actually matriculate into their doctoral program, begin to know the campus, where resources are, who they should be connected with, and that can make a difference,” said Lunaire Ford, executive director of the graduate diversity and outreach initiatives.

The program aims to increase recruitment and retention of underrepresented minority students. Only 4 percent to 5 percent of doctoral students in the STEM fields are underrepresented minorities, Ford said.

The new summer program will enhance other initiatives to increase diversity at the graduate level, said Graduate College dean Karen Colley.

UIC already offers the Summer Research Opportunities Program for Undergraduates, which provides academic research experience for underrepresented minority students who are sophomores and juniors, and the Pathways to Success program, which provides research opportunities during the school year.

“The one thing that was missing from the UIC experience is summer research experience for students entering graduate school,” Colley said.

Students will receive financial incentives to advance throughout their academic program, Colley said.

Those who successfully complete their preliminary or qualifying exams for Ph.D. candidacy will receive $500 to attend academic meetings and conferences, as well as $500 to defray job interview expenses.

Colley and Ford collaborated on the award proposal with Graduate College staff, including Allen Bryson, director of pre-graduate programs; Benn Williams, special projects coordinator; and Aixa Alfonso, associate dean and associate professor of biological sciences.

Each year, the award is granted to one of 500 universities across the country and in Canada represented by the Council of Graduate Schools, Ford said.

“This is a very special honor for UIC — not just the Graduate College — and something we really should be proud of,” he said.

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