A few years ago, Monica Knox had her mind set on getting an associate’s degree in business from a two-year college. Now a senior biology major at Metro State, she has her sights on a Ph.D. in biology.
Knox is one of countless community college students who were introduced to the sciences through the 10-year-old Strides Toward Encouraging Professions in Science (STEPS) program, which this month received a five-year, $1.4 million renewal grant from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences and the National Center for Health Disparities, both programs of the National Institutes of Health.
“With this new grant we are expanding our services in a number of ways, including providing supplemental instruction classes for any student in the sciences at Community College of Aurora and Community College of Denver, not just those in the STEPS program,” says STEPS Director and Metro State Assistant Professor of Chemistry Rosie Walker. “These sessions provide an extra weekly study group guided by an upper-level student that will directly support what is being taught in specific classes. This should help students improve their grades and also gain a firmer grasp on basic concepts they will need throughout their scientific education.
“We really hope to get this up and running within the next year,” adds Walker, who has been with the program since its inception.
Over the course of the last three-year grant cycle, STEPS has assisted 32 students, 62 percent of whom continued on to four-year degrees, 25 percent of those at Metro State.
To participate in STEPS, students must be U.S. citizens or permanent residents who are part of an underrepresented minority population in the sciences, and currently enrolled at the CCA or CCD. They must also have an indication of interest and ability in science and science-related courses.
For Knox, 39, the latter was not the case until a faculty member encouraged her to learn about the STEPS program.
After attending their presentation, she was hooked. “I finished my business degree because I only had one semester left, but when I came to Metro State I changed to biology,” says Knox, who plans to graduate in May 2010. “The program has been really supportive with networking and it removed a lot of anxiety of transferring my major. It boosted my confidence to succeed in the sciences.”
As a participant in the program, Knox received training in computer skills for science; ethics in research; library skills and hands-on lab experience in bio techniques, chemistry, physiology, and cell biology. She also toured research labs at the Anschutz Medical Campus, University of Denver and National Jewish Medical and Research Center, which are among the external agencies where students are encouraged to seek internships.
Knox has completed two back-to-back internships on cell and molecular biology at the Anschutz Medical Campus. The STEPS program paid her salary while also providing her materials and supplies to be used during her internships.
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