Students gather in small groups in a classroom

Support for STEM scholars

Emory has long been an incubator for undergraduate and graduate students seeking to build careers in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). Now, those students are finding more support than ever before.

Aimed at undergraduates and new graduate students, the Emory Initiative to Maximize Student Development (IMSD) seeks to diversify the STEM workforce through mentoring, seminars, and career coaching.

What sets the program apart is its commitment to increase diversity in the biological, biomedical, and behavioral sciences by nurturing students who may be underrepresented in these fields.

The two-year, NIH-funded program has three main goals: preparing undergraduate students for doctoral programs in STEM fields, nurturing graduate students during their matriculation into Emory’s PhD programs, and increasing diversity through mentoring. The program meets these goals by connecting undergraduates and graduate students through mentorship, seminars, and career coaching, says Keith Wilkerson, IMSD director and vice chair of the Department of Biochemistry.

In addition to weekly seminars, IMSD offers classes aimed at increasing success post-graduation, workshops for career development, and pathways to funded research — a rare commodity for undergraduates. And students who can’t do funded research may use resources that IMSD offers to find other opportunities. 

During the weekly seminars, students hear from diverse speakers. One week, it may be a lecture about the future of the pharmaceutical industry. Another, they may sharpen their communication skills through an interactive session on the art of storytelling.

The program focuses heavily on mentorship and relationships between the students and program leaders, Emory faculty, and IMSD alumni. Graduate students are frequently paired with a small group of undergraduates for breakout sessions during the seminars, and many of them mentor their undergraduate counterparts.

Over the summer, many IMSD students will participate in summer internships — some through Emory’s Summer Research Programs, formerly known as SURE (Summer Undergraduate Research at Emory).

And each fall, Emory’s Laney Graduate School convenes and organizes the annual STEM Research and Career Symposium, which draws more than 100 students from underrepresented groups to campus for scholarship, networking, and recruitment opportunities.

Participants include outstanding undergraduates intending to pursue the PhD or MD/PhD as well as graduate students seeking postdoctoral opportunities. The symposium features keynote speakers in STEM fields, and students have a chance to present their own research in a wide variety of scientific categories. 

Even individual students are stepping up to help support peers. During her first year at Emory, Robert W. Woodruff Scholar Alexa Dantzler founded SOAR (Students Obtaining Atlanta Research), a program intended to encourage female students of color from economically disadvantaged neighborhoods to become STEM researchers. 

Last May, Dantzler graduated summa cum laude with a double major in biology and African studies and now serves as a Medical Missionaries Global Health Fellow in Haiti, helping run a rural clinic. 

But before she left Emory, the Society for Science and the Public Interest in Washington, D.C., chose SOAR for its Advocate Grant Program, allowing the program to expand. 

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