Genome Sequencing Center creates summer of opportunity for minority science majors

In an effort to create more diversity at the research bench, eight college students – all minorities majoring in science – spent their summer in St. Louis, getting their first laboratory research experience as part of the Genome Sequencing Center’s new Opportunities in Genomics Research summer program.

Students describe their experience in the Opportunities in Genomics Research summer program.

The GSC has been involved in outreach efforts to minorities for years, but those focused exclusively on students in kindergarten through high school. The new emphasis on undergraduates is intended to reach students at a time when they are making career choices.

The lack of minorities pursuing Ph.D.’s in the sciences is a multi-fold problem, says Cherilynn Shadding, director of outreach for the GSC, who also holds a Ph.D. in physiology from Meharry Medical College.

“Certainly, there’s a lack of minority role models — you just don’t see a lot of minority scientists out there to begin with,” Shadding says. “Also, many undergraduate minority students are focused on pre-med, and research is not seen as an attractive career path.

“But we need to find ways to encourage these students. By increasing diversity at the research bench, we increase the diversity of ideas. With so many problems to be solved, increasing the diversity means that we also are increasing the number of solutions.”

As part of the program, the students are assigned independent research projects and paired with mentors in the Department of Genetics. Having this research experience takes away any misconceptions the students have about what research is like. “They come here, and they see that real lab experience is not like it is in class,” Shadding says. “They’re asking real questions to which no one knows the answer – that ‘s the real difference.”