MBL Receives Grant to Develop Pre-Doctoral Program with Minority Serving Institutions

Undergraduates T'Kiyah Reeves and Pa-Shun Hawkins of Hampton University, a historically Black university in Virginia, at the MBL in 2021. Credit: Dee Sullivan

Choosing a career path is never easy, and gaining the confidence and experience to overcome barriers when considering graduate schools can be especially challenging for students from groups historically underrepresented in STEM.

To address this hurdle, the Marine Biological Laboratory has received a planning grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation to develop an innovative, national model for pre-doctoral programming at MBL that will, in turn, establish equitable pathways to master’s and doctoral programs in STEM at institutions across the country.

The grant is one of 20 nationwide, totaling $5 million, awarded through the Sloan Foundation’s Equitable Pathways program.

MBL Director of Education Linda Hyman is a principal investigator on the grant, which will expand the MBL’s existing relationships with Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs) to plan the development of a pre-doctoral program at MBL. This program will incorporate elements of the National Institute of Health’s Postbaccalaureate Research Education Program, which provides research experiences coupled with professional development and career exploration opportunities.

“’Do you have a postbac program?’ That Is probably the single question I hear most at conferences and fairs that host undergraduates from diverse backgrounds,” said Hyman. “I am delighted that soon we hope the answer will be ‘yes!’ at MBL, and we can provide a rich research experience for these students as they transition from their undergraduate world to next steps in their careers.”

Co-investigators on the Equitable Pathways grant include MBL Senior Scientist Jennifer Morgan, director of the MBL’s Eugene Bell Center for Regenerative Biology and Tissue Engineering;  and Veronica Martinez Acosta, Professor of Biology at University of the Incarnate Word and co-director of the NSF Research Experience for Undergraduates Program at MBL.

MSIs are a federally defined category of higher education institutions either explicitly founded with a mission of educating students from historically marginalized groups or whose enrollment features a significant population of such students. Examples of the seven types of MSIs include Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Tribal Colleges and Universities, and Hispanic Serving Institutions.

“There is no solution to the problem of underrepresentation in STEM that doesn’t involve MSIs as a central player—not one,” said Lorelle Espinosa, program director at the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. “The Sloan Foundation’s investment is a recognition of the vital resource MSIs represent and of the exciting possibilities that open up when you commit to engaging them as long-term partners.”