Mission-focused Mentoring of PREM Undergraduates


Penn State MRSEC and North Carolina Central University PREM

  • The undergrad→graduate transition is a critical stage in the career pathway for underrepresented students.
  • Working with NCCU faculty, key “grad school readiness” courses were identified in which high performance predicts success in the transition to grad school.
  • MRSEC grad students acted as course mentors in these courses, meeting weekly with NCCU students and reinforcing mastery of key topics; Course mentors received a stipend boost to recognize their efforts.
  • Students made immediate connections to their own research and resonated with learning from peer mentors close to their own age.
  • The program expanded to include a spectroscopy minicourse focused on technique explanations and the analysis of each student's own data taken in the lab.

What Has Been Achieved: PSU graduate students were hired to act as course mentors for upper-level courses including Physical Chemistry, Electricity and Magnetism and Quantum Physics. The program was serendipitously expanded in the spring 2023 semester to include a spectroscopy minicourse because Pchem was not offered. Course Mentor Kaitlyn Pasquarella offered biweekly spectroscopy workshops for PREM students in the Taylor and Riaz groups where NCCU students brought their research data using UV-Vis, NMR, and FTIR. 

Importance of the Achievement: Traditional DEI bridge programs encounter resource constraints associated with “intercalating” an additional year into the career pipeline. This raises the question of whether bridge-like activities could be integrated into the existing academic timeline. The MRSEC and our NCCU PREM partner plan to extend this idea to other research domains, maintaining the “bring your data” mechanism and connecting chemistry and physics fundamentals to research.

How is the achievement related to the IRG, and how does it help it achieve its goals? The course mentoring program does not just benefit the NCCU students and faculty: participation is also important professional development for MRSEC students who participate. The program furthers the MRSEC and PREM goal of boosting the DEI pipeline by providing resources to NCCU undergrads needed for successful transition to graduate school.

Year of Highlight: 
Education and Outreach
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