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When she joined Chuck Bieberich’s research lab a year ago, it was the first time Danielle Cannady, a UMBC biological sciences major and a member of the STEM BUILD Training Program, had experienced the one-on-one research mentoring that so benefits aspiring scientists. However, that didn’t mean she was unprepared. A series of preparatory activities and BUILD group research experiences, beginning with a hybrid summer bridge before her freshman year, set her up for success in the next step of her research career.
Fast forward to the present moment, the UMBC junior is transformed. “Coming into the lab setting for the first time, I was nervous about making mistakes and lacking the knowledge to be successful,” Cannady shares, “but through Dr. Bieberich's and my graduate student's support and confidence in me, I now possess the self-assurance and skills to do well in my field of study and eventually my career.”
That mentorship had a major impact not only on Cannady’s confidence and skills as a scientist, but also outside the lab, as a college student broadly. “Dr. Bieberich has continually supported me by allowing me to take on more responsibility, and providing invaluable advice and guidance for not only my future career, but also my undergraduate experience,” Cannady says.
Bieberich, professor of biological sciences and director of the BUILD Training Program (BTP) at UMBC, emphasizes that the benefits of mentorship go both ways. Cannady has also made key contributions to his lab, bringing a fresh set of eyes to his prostate cancer research.
“Danielle learned how to feel the abdomen of a mouse and determine whether or not it has anything wrong with its prostate gland,” Bieberich says. “She got so good at it, that it’s become a key parameter that we follow in a whole colony of mice.” It’s not an easy technique. “I was somewhat skeptical that you’d be able to get accurate data just by squeezing,” says Bieberich, “but it turns out that it’s remarkably accurate, and it just takes practice, patience, and diligence to learn. And Danielle has all three.”
Bieberich is not new to working with undergraduates, seven undergraduate students currently conduct research in his lab. “I’ve just been summarily impressed with their dedication, their ability to learn how to do complicated tasks, and to do them well,” he says. “They’ve really been an integral part of my research team here at UMBC for the last 20-plus years.”
Besides contributing to the research, it’s gratifying for Bieberich to see his students grow. “The best part is watching them progress from just learning techniques to contributing intellectually to a project,” he shares. “You can see when they’re able to put a lot of things together and… understand how what they’re doing contributes to the big picture. When they understand their contribution, it frees them to think about how they can contribute to the ultimate goal. That’s very rewarding because then they’ve become full-fledged scientists.”
Bieberich leads the BTP because he believes in its mission. In the U.S., the gap is widening between the number of qualified STEM graduates and the jobs available, and the STEM graduate population is not as diverse as it should be, he explains. “We’re not leveraging all of the intellectual resources that we have available to us because the biomedical research workforce is not reflective of the diversity that makes up our country.” Bieberich says.
"One of the main goals of the BTP is to use scalable interventions to increase the number of STEM graduates by providing research preparation and additional support to high-potential students from groups that have traditionally left STEM majors at high rates." Bieberich explains. UMBC is well-known for its success in this area. For example, UMBC is the top university in the United States for graduating African-American students who go on to earn Ph.D.s, and the Meyerhoff Scholars Program is lauded as a national model for supporting STEM students from underrepresented groups.
UMBC’s STEM BUILD Training Program has joined the ranks of the many initiatives at UMBC working to enhance the experience and prospects of STEM majors from all backgrounds. However, creating a program is not enough—it’s caring faculty like Bieberich, who mentor dedicated students like Cannady, who will make reaching the goal of a larger, more diverse STEM workforce a reality, one graduate at a time.
The Diversity Program Consortium Coordination and Evaluation Center at UCLA is supported by Office of the Director of the National Institutes of Health / National Institutes of General Medical Sciences under award number U54GM119024.