The student-led project Science Preparatory Research Opportunities for Underrepresented Teens (SPROUT) was among the first awardees of CST’s Diversity Innovation Initiative (DII), which provides financial support for projects that aim to increase representation through innovative approaches that address diversity within the college, and across the fields of mathematics, science and technology.
SPROUT aims to provide young students early exposure to graduate-level research education, improve the research enterprise through increased diversity, and prepare and recruit passionate students to the College of Science and Technology. Professor Erik Cordes, vice chair of the Department of Biology, is SPROUT’s faculty advisor. CST reached out to Salma Mami‚ CST '23, Neuroscience; Gibreel Mami‚ CST '24, Neuroscience; and Hajra Sohail‚ CST '23, Biology; the students leading SPROUT, to learn more about the project.
How did the idea for SPROUT came about?
The idea for SPROUT came around the fall of 2021, after CST launched the DII Fund, which aimed to promote diversity and inclusion in STEM through any student or faculty ideas.
The three of us have noticed that when being exposed to future career options as a young student, there are many factors that may play a role into what is achievable, such as family influences, education, socioeconomic status, community values and more. Thus, we created SPROUT to combat these obstacles. Late high school is a good time to explore interests in depth, and so we wanted to target this age group as we felt SPROUT would serve as a good opportunity to pave career goals.
Why is a program like SPROUT needed?
Many students enrolled in SPROUT have families that have had limited opportunities to access robust academic offerings or come from low socioeconomic backgrounds. It is important that the students are given opportunities to be academically challenged and explore different career paths.
Evidence suggests that interventions which target students’ attitudes towards topics like math and science leads to an increase in their knowledge and behavioral changes. Our program provides a flexible schedule for the students to work with their selected mentors, skill-building workshops, one-to-one mentorship by Temple undergraduate students, poster presentation practice, and a stipend to compensate for their time in the lab. SPROUT also provides students with a range of skill sets that will be useful for many career paths.
We hope that changes sparked by participation in our program will continue to influence their college goals. Participation in undergraduate level research makes them more competitive candidates for research positions in the future.
How do you recruit students?
Students are recruited by sending information of the program through newsletters to the principals from high schools in the Philadelphia School District. From there, the principals forwarded the program details to all high school students. Last year, there were 36 applicants, with 6 total students being selected to complete the program. We have just selected 7 students for the program for this summer.
From last year's cohort, all the students applied to Temple. We are currently aware of two of our previous participants who will be matriculating to Temple this upcoming fall!
What do you think high schoolers are looking for when they apply to SPROUT?
The students that we are generally looking for are the ones that have a keen interest and curiosity for the STEM field, but may not necessarily have the means or resources to expand on their interests. There are not many research programs that are tailored for students in high school.
SPROUT offers a unique and exciting opportunity for high school students to obtain graduate-level research early in their education. These students primarily look at this program as a way to further their interest in the STEM field. Since we target high school juniors, they are still learning what their interests are, so SPROUT helps pave a path for them to determine if the particular field they are doing research in might be a potential career path for the future.
What exciting research projects students have worked on?
We had a number of exciting research projects students were involved with. One of our participants, Maria Awadalla, under the mentorship of Dr. Antonia Chroni and Dr. Sudhir Kumar, attempted to determine the evolutionary roots of cancer cell migrations. Combining evolutionary information with computation tools, the study concluded source and seeding patterns of cancer cells between different tumors were idiosyncratic. A full list of posters and projects of the Summer 2021 Cohort can be found on our website.
Are CST faculty enthusiastic about the program?
It has been nice to see that we were able to get some previous faculty mentors back on for a second year, so we do think that they’ve been enthusiastic about SPROUT. We think that the eagerness to participate comes from not only having a new, young student in their lab for the summer, but also from the initiative’s mission too.
How have the DEI grants impacted the program?
Without the DEI grants, this program would not have been possible. The generosity of the DEI committee allows us to compensate our student researchers for their time and prevents any financial barriers from interfering with students' ability to participate in their program.
Because we select students from different socioeconomic backgrounds, it's important to us that our program rewards the students for their hard work, while still allowing them to pursue their interests in the STEM field.
For this year, in-person research will be conducted, where many students will be forced to take public transportation in order to reach the lab. As a result, the DEI grants also provide a stipend that covers their transportation expenses, minimizing any potential barriers from completing the program. The demands of the program also require payments for lab supplies and the symposium event, funded by these grants.
What is next for SPROUT?
If possible, we hope that SPROUT continues to be a yearly summer program, with a great network of students pursuing various fields of science. We want SPROUT to be a gateway for students who may not have had the resources to be involved in the sciences due to their race, socioeconomic status, or other factors. For this to happen, we’d love to see it as an established program secured through CST funding, like the popular Undergraduate Research Program. If any undergraduate CST student is interested in being a part of leading SPROUT, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.