Billy Thomas, M.D., Robert McGehee, Ph.D. and Kristen Sterba, Ph.D. were vital in efforts for UAMS to partner with Jackson State University. McGehee holds the Visionary Leadership Award from Jackson State.
Oct. 25, 2013 | Robert McGehee, Ph.D., dean of the UAMS Graduate School, was awarded the Visionary Leadership Award from Jackson State University for his work to increase diversity in the Basic Science Graduate Programs at UAMS.
Through the combined efforts of McGehee, Assistant Dean of the Graduate School Kristen Sterba, Ph.D. and Vice Chancellor for Diversity Billy Thomas, M.D., UAMS has been able to partner with Jackson State University (JSU) in Jackson, Miss., in their Bridge to Doctorate program sponsored by the National Science Foundation and the Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation.
“One of the biggest challenges for new graduate students is the transition from undergraduate colleges and universities to graduate school,” McGehee said, “If students don’t make the transition well, their odds of finishing their degree diminish.”
McGehee and the UAMS Graduate School have worked to make this transition period easier for students through partnering with other universities at an undergraduate level. Through this program they have been able to help students successfully make the transition and also increase diversity among students in the UAMS Graduate School.
McGehee, Thomas and Sterba direct two National Institutes of Health grants, the NIGMS Initiative for Maximizing Student Development (IMSD), and the NHLBI Summer Undergraduate Research Program (SURP) that they leverage with partner institutions. The transition program identifies students with interests in basic science Ph.D. programs and they participate in the SURP Program under the supervision of a UAMS faculty mentor. If the students matriculate to UAMS, this summer research activity serves as one of their required graduate research rotations. Upon successful completion of the JSU Bridge to Doctorate program and their bachelor and/or master degree, students are given automatic acceptance to the Interdisciplinary Biomedical Sciences program in the UAMS Graduate School. These IMSD scholars arrive on campus in June where they participate in an intensive 10-week pre-matriculation program and also complete another research rotation. Their JSU Bridge to Doctorate research advisor becomes a member of their dissertation advisory committee at UAMS. When classes start in August, these students know the campus very well, they have met many of the faculty and fellow students, and they have increased confidence in their academic potential, they have completed two of the three required research rotation, and they have a start on their dissertation advisory committee. The goal is to make the undergraduate to graduate transition as seamless as possible.
The UAMS Initiative for Maximized Student Development (IMSD) Program now has 20 students with more than half of those passing their qualifying exams. Three of those are from Jackson State University. There have also been seven students from JSU participate in the Summer Undergraduate Research Program. The increased diverse student population was noted at the UAMS Graduate School’s recent Research Induction Ceremony with many minority students being recognized. There are three pending grants between the two universities to keep the program moving forward.
“It’s really been a grassroots effort to build the program,” said McGehee, who also thanked key JSU faculty members instrumental in the program, including Abdul K. Mohamed, Ph.D., dean Emeritus of the College of Science, Engineering and Technology; Paul Tchounwou, associate dean and presidential distinguished professor; Ashton Hamme II, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry; and Martha Tchounwou, Ph.D., associate director of the JSU Bridge to Doctorate program. Tchounwou presented McGehee with the award.