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April 2, 2018 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 96, ISSUE 14

Letters to the editor

Early research and the STEM pipeline

Two articles in the Nov. 6, 2017, issue of C&EN, “Few Gains for Minority Faculty” and “Perspectives: Hands-On Training Matters More Than Ever,” have spurred us to call attention to a connection between them. The connection among diversity, inclusion, and early hands-on training in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) is an important topic emphasized in our book “The Power and Promise of Early Research.”

Published studies and personal observations strongly support the notion that hiring more STEM faculty members from historically underrepresented groups (HUGs) enhances the recruitment and retention of students from these groups. However, Widener’s article (“Few Gains”) shows that the number of chemistry professors from HUGs remains stagnant at the 50 U.S. universities with the most federal research funding for chemistry.

The catch-22 usually cited is that the pipeline of underrepresented students is too meager; as the pool of underrepresented faculty remains small, little progress is being made in addressing the pipeline issue. We present quantitative and longitudinal evidence that students from HUGs who conduct authentic research early and often have dramatically higher retention in STEM. We believe this strategy can be adopted universally, cross-demographically, and sustainably and offers a long-term means of addressing the human resource dilemma in STEM.

“Early” research includes what is traditionally labeled as undergraduate research but also seamlessly includes authentic research conducted in high school and the first two years of college. Evidence suggests that the effectiveness of this uniquely cross-demographic strategy is not solely dependent on leadership or involvement by underrepresented faculty members. Indeed, the impact, longevity, and overall success of the ACS-sponsored Project SEED program offers a great example of the potential of cross-demographic early research at the intersection of diversity and inclusion. Faculty from all backgrounds can contribute to this effort.

We strongly advocate for significantly increasing the relatively minuscule amounts invested in support of early research especially given the higher percentages of homegrown American students vis-à-vis international students in the earlier phases of the educational system, particularly in STEM. Investing in early research is distinctly an investment in American students and should be a national priority. We urge action and implementation at all levels of our educational system.

Desmond Murray
Berrien Springs, Mich.
Sherine Obare Kalamazoo, Mich.
James Hageman
Mount Pleasant, Mich.

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