PCOM recently partnered with Cabrini University to mentor college-age African-American and Latino men about the process of research.
Lack of diversity in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields continues to be an issue. A 2018 study by the Pew Research Center found that African Americans and Latinos make up just 16 percent of the STEM workforce. In health-related fields, those percentages drop to 11 percent for African Americans and 8 percent of Latinos. For the life sciences, those numbers drop even further, to 4 percent for African Americans, and 7 percent for Latinos.
Existing research has suggested that a lack of access to advanced science courses and professional environments could be one reason for the disparity. To that end, PCOM recently partnered with Cabrini University to develop a summer mentoring program designed to educate college-age African-American and Latino men about the process of research and the intricacies of working in a professional laboratory.
For eight weeks, three Cabrini students were paired one-on-one with PCOM researchers as an integral part of the research team, learning how to formulate research hypotheses, design experiments and interpret their findings.
Mindy George-Weinstein, PhD, chief research and science officer, noted that Cabrini students had been part of her lab for the past 30 years. “Cabrini students have made significant contributions to our research. They are bright, collegial, inquisitive and capable,” she said.
Jacquelyn Gerhart, MS, coordinator of PCOM’s research support staff and bio-imaging facility, worked with Cabrini junior Mark Martin studying Myo/Nog cells, and said she jumped at the opportunity to participate.
“I went to Cabrini and had a similar internship experience—I was able to work with researchers and that experience ultimately landed me my job at PCOM,” she said. “I was very happy to give back.”
Mr. Martin said he was excited at the possibility to work in a functioning lab, and that he found the experience beneficial.
“Jackie taught me not only how to do research but also helped me learn how to market myself so that I can have a better chance of getting a job,” said Mr. Martin, who is majoring in biology. “She was an amazing mentor and made this experience truly memorable for me.”
Zachary Martinez, also a junior at Cabrini studying biology, worked in the lab of Jocelyn Lippman-Bell, PhD, assistant professor, neuroscience, physiology and pharmacology, studying the effects of early-life seizures on cognitive development.
“I’m definitely going to take everything I’ve learned and use those skills for the rest of my life,” he said. “I’d love to come to PCOM after undergrad. I love the family environment here—everyone is very friendly.”
Alexander Sanchez, a senior psychology major at Cabrini, worked with Scott Little, PhD, associate professor, microbiology and immunology, exploring the pathogen chlamydia pnemonae as a potential trigger for Alzheimer’s disease.
“Being from North Philly, opportunities like these don’t come easy to us,” he said. “Not many people there consider this as a career.”
Marcine Pickron-Davis, PhD, chief diversity and community relations officer, said this is exactly the type of mindset she hopes the program can address.
“There is a real, noticeable absence of black and Latino men in the STEM fields, particularly in the basic sciences, and we want to do everything we can to address that gap by breaking down barriers and showing these men that there are viable careers in these fields for them,” she said.
The mentorship program was led on the Cabrini side by José Rodriguez, chief diversity officer, and was a collaborative effort on the PCOM side among the offices of Diversity and Community Relations, Admissions, and the Division of Research.
“PCOM has several programs in place to help address the lack of diversity in health and science fields. It is our job to ensure that the population of our student body reflects the diversity of our surrounding communities, and the environments in which our students will one day serve,” said Marsha Williams, associate director of admissions, who also oversees minority student recruitment.
Some of these additional programs include the Science and Math Summer Academy; The DLC STEMprep Project Training Program; and the Health Professions Recruitment and Exposure Program.
Founded in 1899, Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine (PCOM) has trained thousands of highly competent, caring physicians, health practitioners and behavioral scientists who practice a “whole person” approach to care—treating people, not just symptoms. PCOM operates three campuses (PCOM, PCOM Georgia and PCOM South Georgia) and offers doctoral degrees in clinical psychology, osteopathic medicine, pharmacy, physical therapy and school psychology, and graduate degrees in biomedical sciences, forensic medicine, mental health counseling, organizational development and leadership, physician assistant studies, school psychology, and public health management and administration. PCOM students learn the importance of health promotion, research, education and service to the community. Through its community-based Healthcare Centers, PCOM provides care to medically underserved populations. For more information, visit pcom.edu or call 215-871-6100.
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