Marianna Burks spent a good chunk of her summer building a community with future Huskers.
Burks, a science learning specialist with TRIO Programs and instructor in biological sciences, worked with colleagues to develop a summer research internship program for incoming first-year students already enrolled in the University of Nebraska–Lincoln’s Upward Bound Math-Science program. Upward Bound works with marginalized high school students to discover and cultivate their STEM skills and encourage the pursuit of a college degree. The new research internship program, which was a partnership of Upward Bound, TRIO and the School of Biological Sciences, specifically worked with first-generation and underrepresented students.
“We felt a need to be really purposeful in these efforts and to be strategic within the biology department to increase representation of first-generation and underrepresented students in the sciences,” Burks said. “I am the only African-American female in this department and I am a huge advocate for underrepresented students in STEM and across all departments because I understand they’re reducing barriers future students experience.”
Over the last year, Burks worked with Kristi Montooth, Susan Rosowski Associate Professor in biological sciences; Michael Herman, director of SBS; Dai Shizuka, associate professor of biological sciences; Brian Couch, associate professor of biological sciences; and Joan Mendoza-Gorham, Hoa Nguyen and Kyle Baxter, administrators for Upward Bound, to plan and implement the program.
The pilot program brought nine area students to campus from June 1 to July 30. The students spent 20 hours a week working in biology or chemistry labs (depending on their planned major) and learned the ins and outs of research. The internship culminated in a research symposium Aug. 13, where students presented what they learned.
Students also participated in professional development activities, while getting to meet with one another on a regular basis. Burks met with the students regularly as well, helping them to reflect on what they’ve learned and offer assistance as needed. Aside from building their confidence and skills in laboratory research, Burks said the program also was designed to build relationships that will be helpful as students embark on their college careers.
“We wanted to focus on a sense of belonging, and creating that sense of community before they even get to our institution,” she said. “It’s helpful to have a home base, or a place you can settle in. What this program did was establish that home base for these students.”
Burks said overall, the pilot program was a huge success for the students and the faculty who advised them in the labs.
“The contribution of our scholars to the science and to their lab communities has been fantastic,” Burks said. “It was very rewarding to hear our scholars use words such as independent, supported and confident to describe their experiences in the lab and to see their surprise when they were generating new data within days of stepping into their labs.”
As these students begin classes at Nebraska Aug. 23, Burks said they will be encouraged to continue their experiential research learning through the First Year Research Experience and the Undergraduate Creative Activities and Research Experience programs.
For the pilot program, the team invited students from Lincoln. Burks hopes the program can grow and expand in the future to offer housing on campus so that students from outside the Lincoln area can be included.
“We’d like them to have that whole campus experience, staying in housing, eating in the dining halls, but we’ll need more funding for that,” Burks said. “We are really committed to growing this cohort learning community summer internship.”