Creating a more inclusive education system begins with bringing greater diversity into disciplines.
At Missouri State University, the Missouri Louis Stokes Alliances for Minority Participation (MoLSAMP) program supports the development of underrepresented students in STEM disciplines.
The program recently received renewed funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to aid in its efforts.
Dr. Tayo Obafemi-Ajayi, assistant professor of electrical engineering at Missouri State, serves as site coordinator of the program.
Fostering research of underrepresent students
Since starting in January 2019, the MSU MoLSAMP program has supported the research efforts of more than 20 undergraduate research scholars.
These research scholars reflect many underrepresented groups. They include:
- African American.
- American Indian.
- Other Pacific Islander.
Mentorships and professional exposure
MSU MoLSAMP engages students in individualized undergraduate research under the guidance of an advisor. In addition to mentorship, each student in the program receives a $2,000 stipend.
“The specific research students complete depends on their major, grade level and research method,” Obafemi-Ajayi said. “Their tasks often involve drafting literature reviews, coding and completing lab or field work.”
Each student submits a paper covering their work, which they then present at conferences to gain professional exposure. Prior to the pandemic, this included travel to conferences in Washington, D.C.
Students also receive academic advising and a weekly meeting space for connecting with others in the program.
“One of our goals is to increase representation of underrepresented groups in grad school,” Obafemi-Ajayi said. “It’s a big deal for us to have students finish the undergraduate program and do well with their research. It’s even better when they then go on to get a graduate degree.”
One student’s experience
Biology senior Cameron Kirk has been a participant in the program since spring 2020.
He studies everyday laboratory techniques and 3D microscope use under the guidance of Dr. Kyoungtae Kim, associate dean of the College of Natural and Applied Sciences.
“It’s given me a taste of what a research profession is like and the experience I’ll need to run my own lab one day,” Kirk said. “Combining this with an unbeatable research team makes for a tremendous opportunity.”
Become a research scholar today
The First Year Scholars program
Participants in MSU LSAMP must have a minimum of a 3.0 GPA. To help more incoming students meet this requirement, the program started the First Year Scholars program in fall 2020.
“Many students fall behind academically when they lack proper support. Then, they must leave,” Obafemi-Ajayi said. “First Year Scholars offers students the needed connections.”
Participants in First Years Scholars take part in non-NSF-funded workshops in collaboration with Bears L.E.A.D.
Dr. Kelly Wood, MSU associate provost for student success, and Dola Flake, MSU diversity transition and support coordinator, guide these collaborative efforts.
Participants also attend biweekly meetings and receive peer mentorship. Kirk is among these peer mentors.
“Peer mentoring has taught me to be a more effective leader,” Kirk said. “It also shows first-year students how to have a well-rounded university experience.”
Today’s students, the future’s faculty
Many academic-oriented students later end up in faculty positions.
This means accounting for diversity in the student body can fuel its presence among faculty, Obafemi-Ajayi explains.
“If we don’t support our underrepresented students now, we are unlikely to see their diverse perspectives included among future educators,” she said.
She stresses the importance of MSU LSAMP’s efforts to invest in building commitment among minority students. This can be crucial to helping these students reach future success.
“It’s the core of what we do: keeping students connected to education,” Obafemi-Ajayi said. “We provide opportunities to help them stay, thrive and graduate.”
Transforming STEM education
The MoLSAMP program’s name honors Louis Stokes, a former U.S. Representative.
Stokes became Ohio’s first African American member of Congress. He provided crucial support for civil rights, economic justice and equality during his years of service.
“In support of Stokes’ efforts, the program serves to increase academic retention and graduate rates of underrepresented students,” Obafemi-Ajayi said. “We want them to complete their undergraduate studies and be ready to go into the workforce or graduate school.”
About the NSF grant
The MSU MoLSAMP program will receive approximately $500,000 over a four-year period.
The funding comes as a result of participation in the Missouri LSAMP Alliance.
The alliance unites participating colleges and universities in efforts to increase the number of underrepresented students in STEM disciplines across the state.
Harris-Stowe State University serves as the lead institution of the MO alliance.