September 24, 2012
Metropolitan State University of Denver
STEPS program puts best foot forward for science education
|Rosie Depoy Walker (right) says the STEPS program has helped several hundred diverse students pursue science careers in the 14 years it has operated at MSU Denver..|
Hum along if you want—Happy birthday to you! Strides Toward Encouraging Professions in Science (STEPS) is celebrating its 14th birthday this month.
The program, which is designed to expand minority participation in science professions, has increased “the number of women, ethnic minorities and people with disabilities majoring or minoring in chemistry,” says Rosemarie DePoy Walker, assistant professor in the MSU Denver Chemistry Department and STEPS director.
In the 11-year period between 1999 and 2010, the number of minority students majoring in chemistry and biology at MSU Denver increased 170 percent, from 171 to 463.
The program started back in September 1998 when MSU Denver, the Community College of Denver, Community College of Aurora and Front Range Community College were all awarded a two-year “bridges to the future” grant from the National Institutes of Health.
And STEPS has been funded regularly since then. Its most recent grant was a five-year gift awarded in 2009.
Each year, STEPS selects 16 students from the participating community colleges for a seminar in biomedical research techniques. Then they complete paid internships in Denver-area labs as research assistants working on anything from the common cold to organic synthesis to cancer research.
In all, they spend up to 480 hours in STEPS, and they can stay with the program until they enroll in a four-year institution.
Walker says students often share with her how much they enjoyed their internships. To offer those internships, STEPS has forged relationships with the Anschutz Medical Campus -University of Colorado Hospital, National Jewish Hospital and Research Center, Rose Medical Center, the University of Denver, the University of Colorado - Denver and, of course, MSU Denver.
John Ray, a chemistry major who has completed the STEPS program, says for him, the program bridged classroom work with the real-world applications. Ray had internships at both National Jewish Health and the Anschutz Medical Campus where he worked on lung, cancer, Parkinson’s and AIDS research.
“It was really amazing to see the real link between what we were doing in class and then in the lab,” Ray says. “I learned so much. STEPS gave me a lot of career direction.”
Walker says her work with STEPS has been “immensely gratifying.”
“I’ve watched students in STEPS go from knowing nothing about the careers they have available to them to becoming confident and finishing their bachelor’s degree and moving on to professional or graduate school.”
She adds that many STEPS students have presented their research in professional conferences and in scientific journals.
Earlier this year, the American Chemical Society honored Walker for her work on STEPS with its 2012 Stanley C. Israel Regional Award given to those who advance diversity in the chemical sciences.
“It’s an honor to receive it. I’ve always wanted to bring more students of different backgrounds into the field of chemistry,” Walker says. “It’s important that people understand how much individuals of different backgrounds can bring to new breakthroughs in research and improvement in chemical education.”