STEM program working to improve diversity receives nearly $1.5 million grant

Jessica Cruz

Contributing Writer


Bridges to the Baccalaureate, a VCU program that helps community college students interested in biomedical and behavioral sciences transition to a four-year institution, received a five-year, $1.48 million grant from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences.

This grant will improve diversity in biomedical and behavioral sciences in the VCU community. Prior to the grant, Bridges to Baccalaureate already worked to improve how minority students are encouraged to participate in STEM fields. One element of the program addresses students’ educations prior to transferring to a four-year institution.

Additionally, the grant will allow the program to expand and offer more support for students after they transfer to a university.

“Having a diverse group of people on your team is extremely beneficial for many reasons,” said freshman biomedical engineering major Sana Natividad. “Different cultural backgrounds allow you to see projects through a different lens to promote new ideas. The world of science is bound to have new discoveries with the collaboration of all cultures, not just one.”

Through the program — which was created in 2013 and directed by associate professor of biology Karen Kester — VCU works with Thomas Nelson and John Tyler community colleges to educate students about potential STEM-related careers. Bridges to the Baccalaureate also places a special emphasis on encouraging community college students from underrepresented groups to participate in biomedical research.

VCU biology professor Santiago Lima, who has mentored a student in the program, said he recognizes the significance of such an inclusive organization.

“The more [minority groups] that there are in biomedical research is better because students that are thinking about it see peers that in a way they have a connection to,” Lima said. “It might give them that little bit of push to say ‘I can do this.’”

Bridges to the Baccalaureate’s summer research program, Dream-to-Goal, accepts applicants from underrepresented groups, disadvantaged backgrounds and those with a disability  who have completed basic math and science classes at the college level with a 2.5 GPA.

“It allows them to come in contact with science in a way that’s hands-on that — especially if they are from a disadvantaged background — they might not have the opportunity otherwise,” Lima said.

Some VCU students in STEM fields said they fear not enough students know about programs like Bridges to the Baccalaureate, and therefore cannot experience the advantages that come along with them.

“I think that if underrepresented groups knew more about this, then it would benefit them immensely,” said sophomore chemistry major Madeline Escobar-Velasquez. “This creates opportunities that people did not have before, and that have caused many people to feel discouraged and turn away from pursuing their true dreams.”

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