ReBUILDing the STEM pipeline in Detroit


Professor Mark VanBerkum is part of the leadership team for an innovative NIH-funded program called ReBUILDetroit. This program is aimed at increasing diversity in the biomedical work force and promoting student success. For each of the past five years, fifteen entering freshmen with interests in Science, Technology, Engineering or Math (STEM) have been selected as ReBUILDetroit Scholars. These students participate in a number of targeted professional development, research, and coursework activities through their time at WSU, all of which are aimed at supporting their academic success and increasing their sense of identity as scientists.

Dr. Mark VanBerkum engages with ReBUILD Detroit students

For seven weeks this summer, incoming ReBUILDetroit Scholars lived in Wayne State dorms and dove into the ReBUILDetroit summer enrichment program. Students spent the summer attending academic sessions on a number of different topics. For one module, they worked with Dr. VanBerkum for two weeks studying development and aging in his favorite organism, the fruit fly. Dr. VanBerkum states that “Helping these enthusiastic students succeed both in the classroom and as young researchers is an amazing opportunity.”

ReBUILD Detroit partners research active Wayne State with the University of Detroit Mercy and Henry Ford College to provide more students with early research experience. By the time fall classes start, ReBUILD Scholars have studied together and gone on field trips with other scholars from the University of Detroit Mercy. Students are comfortable navigating classes and campus, have a supportive group of friends and instructors and know they can succeed here.

ReBUILD scholars during the summer of 2019. Back row: Ozi Ukandu, Darius Sammons and Professor VanBerkum. Second row: Angel Humphries, Olivia Setser, Autumn Underwood and Professor Ashok Kumar. Third row: Julianna Summers-Doniver, Kennedy Redmond- Payne, program manager Jennifer Tabb, Evelyn Odunayo-Ojo, Maria Tran and Marilyn Williams. Front row: Amina Hafeez, Asia Riley, Lauryn Williams and Angelique McGhee-Johnson.

In the fall new students join upperclassmen in a ReBUILD Detroit Learning Community to talk about specialized research, including the research conducted by more senior Scholars. Dr. VanBerkum notes that “Last year the Learning community met on Friday afternoons, so we worked hard to make them interesting!” ReBUILD Scholars are advised and guided by two colleagues from the Graduate School, Dr. Farron McIntee and Ms. Jennifer Tabb. In addition to research and professional development activities, ReBUILD scholars meet young Wayne State faculty to learn about their career paths. Talking with scientists that are much like themselves is a revelation for these students.

One of the best metrics of a program is graduation rate, and initial results from ReBUILD Detroit are remarkable. The first cohort of students graduated in May 2019 with 85% completing a STEM degree within 4 years! Dr. VanBerkum is eager to maintain this level of success over the next five years. Innovative programs, such as ReBUILD Detroit, fuel the academic resurgence in the city. Dr. VanBerkum believes that Detroit could become a major center where underrepresented students excel in biomedical research careers. By stepping into a leadership role in ReBUILDetroit he aims to help make this happen.

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