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About 9 years ago the American Physical Society wondered aloud (actually the Executive Board discussed this in their meeting) whether the APS could take actions to improve the participation of underrepresented minority (URM) students in physics. From that conversation came the APS Bridge Program – its 5-year mission to seek out new ideas and new strategies, and to boldly go where no project had been successful at going to before – has been remarkably successful. This past year, we funded only 6 students, but were able to place 48 into graduate programs across the country. The number 48 is significant because the number of URM students who receive PhDs needed to go up by only 30 in the US, in order for the fraction of bachelor’s degrees and doctorates to be the same. Forty-eight is also significant, as this demonstrates there is enough interest in the community to sustain the program’s efforts into the future (42 were funded by the institutions themselves). APS, however, is not getting out of this program – we will continue to gather applications for all graduate programs to consider, and we will be exploring how the efforts that began with admissions reform in 2013 will be sustained, and expanded into insuring all students are supported to complete their degrees. What’s more, we recently invited our colleagues at several other professional societies, including the American Chemical Society and American Mathematical Society, to consider mounting parallel efforts in their discipline.
As we have seen in other projects, listening to students and understanding the challenges they face allow us as educators and mentors to help them overcome obstacles that might defeat an otherwise highly capable individual from making contributions to the discipline. We are delighted that this process has resulted in improving diversity, and enabling a number of students to complete doctoral degrees who would otherwise not have had the opportunity.
A side note: In an effort to understand why our sites were able to maintain high retention rates, we asked our site leaders to describe induction practices for new bridge students. The result (just published) can be found here: http://www.apsbridgeprogram.org/resources/manual/index.cfm. You may find this induction manual helpful for all of your students. Please let us know.
Disclaimer – The articles and opinion pieces found in this issue of the APS Forum on Education Newsletter are not peer refereed and represent solely the views of the authors and not necessarily the views of the APS.