Eighteen students at RIT majoring in designated STEM fields like Biomedical Sciences and Electrical Engineering were steeped in research.
They are part of the McNair/LSAMP program. The Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (LSAMP) is funded by the National Science Foundation. The Ronald E. McNair Post-Baccalaureate Achievement Program focuses on second and third-year students who show strong academic ability and want to pursue graduate education with an emphasis on doctoral studies. The two programs complement one another. Undergraduates can prepare for graduate school working with RIT faculty who provide strong academic support. This summer was no exception.
McNair/LSAMP students researched a variety of issues. From developing a more targeted way for doctors to detect cancer cells on patient scans to linguistics research on American Sign Language. One engineering student even found a new passion doing research on the prison industrial complex.
COVID-19 restrictions forced some changes with the way they not only conducted their research but also the types of projects they could do.
“We had some unique challenges this summer, but the students and faculty were creative in finding ways to keep research moving forward,” said Kate Torrey, Director of McNair Scholars & Campus Coordinator of LSAMP. “Some students were able to be physically present in labs on campus doing their experiments and research. Other students worked at home analyzing data and experiments. Still other students who would typically do STEM research decided to try social sciences research because it is easier to conduct remotely.”
“My research plan was completely remote,” said Samantha Tavarez, a fourth-year Biomedical Sciences major from Utica, NY. She used email and Zoom to connect with her faculty mentor Postdoctoral Fellow at Wegmans School of Health and Nutrition, Dr. Brenda Abu at the College of Health Sciences and Technology. Dr. Abu was one of 14 faculty mentors who worked in the program this summer.
Tavarez first looked at the association between pica practices and iron deficiency among pregnant women. Her interest in nutritional sciences has now led her to do research on food insecurity among college students. “I am finding tool interventions based on the qualitative and quantitative analysis from past research studies that can be potentially introduced to the RIT policy and administration in regards to dining and nutrition education,” she said of her preliminary findings.
Dr. Tomicka Wagstaff, Assistant Vice President for Student Access and Success, Division of Diversity and Inclusion said McNair/LSAMP coupled with RIT’s Co-op program sets students apart. “Our placement rate indicates that 45% of our students go directly into a graduate program and the other 55% go into industry. We have a 98% retention rate.”
Wagstaff adds that McNair/LSAMP students are in graduate schools across the country, working at companies like L’Oréal, Johnson and Johnson, Google, YouTube, Apple and Boeing, or in labs at the University of Missouri and Howard University.
Torrey said, “Our program consistently has a higher on-time graduation rate than RIT as a whole. By providing students the chance to do paid research in labs with faculty members, the program allows many students to find a new passion in research, which often leads to the decision to attend graduate school to pursue a career in research.”
Tavarez agrees. “My plan after graduation is to possibly take some time off to gain more work experience in the medical field. Career-wise, I want to be a physician while integrating research within my practice.”