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By Bushraa Khatib
The APS Bridge Program (APS-BP) recently announced that California State University, Long Beach (CSULB) and Florida State University (FSU) will receive funding to develop bridge programs designed to increase the number of underrepresented minority (URM) students receiving a PhD in physics. The APS Bridge Program seeks to increase the number of physics PhDs awarded to URM students by creating a network of mentoring programs to help them complete their PhDs.
This is the APS Bridge Program’s second round of site selection since the program launched in 2012. Newly selected sites join The Ohio State University (OSU) and the University of South Florida (USF), the first two funded sites, whose bridge programs are already underway. URM students, including African Americans, Hispanic Americans and Native Americans, currently receive only about five to six percent of all physics PhDs given to US citizens, a number the program is working to increase.
Students selected as APS Bridge Fellows receive stipends to participate in programs at the bridge sites. APS-BP will fund two students at each of its four sites, with the possibility of placing more if bridge sites are able to secure their own funding, as OSU and USF did last year.
CSULB is the largest master’s-granting physics department in the US and has an established track record for transitioning students into doctoral programs. Of the graduating master’s cohort in 2014, five URM students were accepted into doctoral programs. Through the Bridge Program, CSULB will admit two students as Bridge Fellows into its master’s program, where they will receive mentoring, take courses, engage in research, and receive application coaching in order to apply to doctoral programs. Andreas Bill, site leader at CSULB, said, “To become an APS Bridge Site is a great opportunity to reach out to underrepresented minorities in physics in the diverse urban environment.”
FSU will enroll at least two URM students a year into the Bridge Program, and will ultimately bridge them to a PhD program at FSU or elsewhere. Bridge Fellows will begin the program as research interns at the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory (MagLab) in Tallahassee in the summer prior to enrollment. In the first academic year, Bridge Fellows will take advanced undergraduate courses before enrolling in core graduate courses. After a second summer of research, students will enroll in a mix of core graduate courses and MS thesis credit, and will qualify for a thesis-based MS degree by the end of their second year. Bridge Fellows receive full stipend and tuition support, and will not have to teach until their second year in the program.
“The goal of our Bridge Program is to give the best opportunity to succeed in graduate school in physics to minority students who would otherwise have slipped through the cracks,” said Simon Capstick, site leader at FSU. “We have recently been able to increase the involvement of women and minorities in our physics graduate program, and the APS Bridge Program will significantly enhance this.” Capstick said support from the FSU administration and the physics department for the Bridge Program, and also for other efforts that improve diversity, is essential for continued progress. Moreover, he added, “[We expect that] what we learn from working to maximize the chance of success of our Bridge Program students will help us with the retention and success of all of our students.”
Bridge Program Manager Brian Beckford is excited that the addition of new sites translates into more research topics available to students, including opportunities at the MagLab, and the ability to reach students on the west coast through CSULB. “Placing more students and the continuing success of the program could dramatically change the face of physics graduate departments and society in general,” he said.
In addition to placing students at APS Bridge Sites, the program also sends student applications to other graduate programs that may have slots available, depending on research interests. Through this process, the APS Bridge Program hopes to make a significant impact. In 2013, 15 students who would not otherwise have begun graduate education were admitted to either bridge programs or directly into graduate programs. The project is on track to increase that number in 2014.
The program will host its annual APS Bridge Program meeting at the end of June. This year’s meeting focuses on the role the master’s degree plays in advancing URM students in physics. The program anticipates issuing another request for proposals for new Bridge Sites in fall 2014.
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