Alcorn State University to Penn State University: Bridges to the Doctorate Program

– Hi. My name is Melanie McReynolds. I’m a fourth-year graduate
student in the Biochemistry, Microbiology, and Molecular
Biology Program here at the Pennsylvania State University. – Hi. I’m Kerry Belton,
and I’m a fourth-year Molecular Toxicologist. – Together we’ve both started
the Bridges program at Alcorn State during
the fall semester 2009, and transitioned to Penn State
during the summer of 2010. – Hi. My name is Sarah Owusu. I am originally from Chicago, Illinois. I came here to enroll
into the bachelor program in Physiology, and one of the
first people that I met as a Bridges student, her name
is Melanie McReynolds, and she was very warm and welcoming. It was during orientation. Orientation finished, and she
came and introduced herself, and to see someone that
looked like me was exciting, especially coming into a new area where you don’t know anyone else. Upon that, that’s how I was
able to be introduced to the other Bridges students, and that was the first time
I’d ever really heard about the Bridges program and what they’re about. – Hi. I’m Kayla Allen-Eckles,
and I’m a part of the Bridges Alcorn State Penn State program, and I am in my first year of the PhD
program in Plant Biology. – I’m Walter Jackson III, and
I am a six-year PhD candidate in the Molecular Cellular and Integrative Biosciences Graduate Program. – I am Jamal James and I’m in the Molecular Medicine Program,
starting my fifth year. – My name is Josephine Garban. I am a fourth-year PhD student in the Molecular Medicine
Graduate Program, and I am not directly under
the Bridges grant, but I have been fortunate enough
to meet all of its students, and it has really been
helpful in providing somewhat of a support network for me. I enjoy going to the
journal club meetings. Through that I was able to
get a lot of help studying for my candidacy as well
as comprehensive exams. We get together every week. They provide a lot of feedback,
a lot of help for me, so even though I am not
necessarily part of the Bridges Program, I have benefited
greatly from the program. I’ve met a lot of incredible
people, and I think that the program has extended
far beyond its scope and it has reached a wider audience. It has brought a lot of students of color really, really together and
that’s helped me in making and maintaining a lot of
friends from graduate school that I hope to have throughout my life. – Being part of the Bridge
Program has helped me a lot. Being exposed to all of the
resources and different types of research here at Penn State
is really an eye-opener. As a Bridge student, I
worked in a virology lab with hepatitis C, and I had
an opportunity to be exposed to a lot of biochemistry
and molecular biology work, and I had a great adviser who
was there every step of the way to really help make
this transition to the Penn State Science life more easy. And then after beginning the PhD program, I joined the Metabolomics Lab which I didn’t really expect at first, but it’s now a really great experience. – How would my life be I guess,
without the Bridges Program? I honestly thought I
would be a football coach. I played football in high
school and in college, and that’s probably something
that’s always been in my heart, just to be around, you
know, helping out kids, and understanding the struggle
of how it is to go to school and play football at a high
school and a college level, I think I would have
made a pretty good coach. But the Bridges Program
has basically given me more opportunities than
I could ever imagine. I never thought that I
could actually, I guess, be able to go anywhere
that I wanted to go, and do research. Honestly, that never
came across my mind when I was in high school or college. It wasn’t until later, like
my junior or senior year, once I heard about the Bridges Program. So the opportunity for me was a blessing, because I feel like it definitely
will lead to so much more, and if I didn’t have it,
I probably wouldn’t be living up to my full potential. – I am from the definition
of small town Mississippi, so in my high school, and even growing up, science always intrigued
me. The idea of science, everything about science
was very intriguing. I loved the subject, I did
really well, but working in a laboratory or doing hands-on research was always abstract to me. And I went to Alcorn State where I was exposed to research in STEM. It was great exposure
coming from a place where I had never worked in a lab,
never done an experiment, to going to Alcorn and
having the opportunities of going on internship programs
and being exposed to all the aspects of research
and biomedical research. And Penn State was that training
where, from the background that I came from, I like to
say, doing the Bridges program, I was able to be placed in
the pond with a life jacket on and be taught how to
swim, instead of being thrown into the pond and be
expected to be able to swim. – The journal clubs are mostly
for the younger students that are getting your feet wet with
the science, to be able to, I guess, set up future work
from what they see in the papers which is the name of the game at the beginning of graduate school. That’s the one thing that
you’re really tested on at the beginning, for the graduate
school to know whether or not you’re able to continue
throughout the program. We’re able to come together
for the data clubs and present the data that we’ve
been working on so far, and, I think, we didn’t have that. The oldest Bridges
students didn’t have that when we first came in, and
I think that’s very helpful to see other people who have
gone through the program and have done, you know,
XYZ in the lab and they’re showing it, and these are
things that are going to be published within the
next several months or couple years or something. I think it’s good for the
younger Bridges students to see that full circle and success in the program. – The Bridges Program has
benefited me in various ways. First and foremost, I
like that we read a lot of scientific articles that prepared us. The classes, it was a big
adjustment coming from a small university like Alcorn
State where we only had about 3,000 students, to Penn
State which has over 40,000. So the class size is much
larger, and we were taught how to acclimate to that environment. Testing style and teaching
style is also different. Where at Alcorn we could
easily go up to the professor, there’s only about 15, maybe
20 students in a class, and have a one-on-one discussion
immediately following class, now it’s kind of, office
hours, and being more proactive scheduling when you know
that you would need help, and keeping ahead in classes versus kind of being guided along
day by day, week by week. As far as the community of
Bridges students, I would say we’re very supportive of
one another, everybody is always available, for anything
that you need, any help. For example in my experience personally, we moved here and we came
out of a lot of money to relocate from Mississippi,
but the students got together and brought us groceries,
and grocery shopping money, so that was really
beneficial and encouraging. – So the community that we
have built here is a very supportive community, a
network where we all try to benefit from each other. Most of the time, we are the
only person in our cohort that looks like us, so it’s
really positive and really good to see other people who
have similar upbringings, similar background, and
the same struggles as you. Even students that are not a
part of the Bridges Program, we like everyone to come together, and we try to help train each other. If I’m proficient in it, I’m
doing well with one technique and Kerry needs help, then we
try to have that relationship and that network where he
will feel comfortable enough to come to me and get my help. We also work with each other doing our candidacy presentations,
during our comprehensive exams, if we need someone to
edit, or someone to listen to us present, tell us which
slides should we rearrange. From the smallest thing
to the biggest thing, we really try to be there for each other, and really provide that
supportive community where we can all be the best
scientists that we can be. – We’ve kind of built a community
where we kind of rely on each other to help each other
through the doctoral program. Whether it is moral support
or helping us to get through our different stages in our
doctoral programs, candidacy, and comprehensive exams, and journal clubs and presentations and so forth. It was good to meet senior
students in the Bridges Program that had went through the stages that I, or any other student under me, was going to go through. It’s almost like there’s a
blessing meeting Melanie. So far, I’m in my fourth
year of my doctoral program, going into my fifth year, actually, just started my fifth year of
my doctoral program yesterday, and I’ll be graduating
next year by May or August, most likely May, and I can say that although I’m not a Bridges student, I do feel like I’m
adopted into the program. – A lot of people come to graduate school and it’s very easy for you
to lose your confidence in different little
situations you run into, and so in the Bridges Program, everyone keeps each other
lifted throughout the process, and so it’s been very important it’s been very important
in, I know, helping me. – It is good to see how a
program like this does increase diversity at a predominantly
white institute, and how the Bridges students not only help themselves, they try to help other students
that are a minority group, whether they’re African
American or any other minority, and that’s what I do appreciate
about the Bridges Program. I do believe it does increase
awareness of how other minority students can
succeed in higher education and how we not only help
ourselves but we try to reach other students and let
them know that it is possible that there are other students
that do look like you that are in a doctoral program. I can say that I feel like
Bridges is a great program. I do think that it needs to
continue, and I feel like more universities should be involved
in the Bridges Program, and there should be more awareness
at a lot of institutions that are predominantly white that
there is a Bridges Program, so that they can also
be more of our advocate. We kind of need that catalyst to allow the program to succeed. – It’s going to open up more
avenues for more people, for more minority and more
under-represented people to be included in science or feel comfortable to
pursue that type of career if that’s what they choose to do. – And I know that Marsa
says that pre-exposure of coming here and getting
that hands-on experience, taking classes, getting into
the network, getting the support system, learning the
ins and outs of how to survive and how to be successful
as a graduate student. – In the future my goals with
my degree in plant biology are to work either in
industry or academia. I’m not so set on on or the
other, but overall I would like to use my experience with
Bridges to give back to the community by helping to increase minority enrollment in STEM programs. There are a lot of opportunities
that we don’t have in the community, and I would like
to be one of the people who initiates program establishment
as well as insuring the students matriculate from lower
level, so elementary school throughout high school as well
as college, to the graduate level, because there are
a lot of opportunities that are not known by a
majority of the population. – I plan to stay in academia. I really love the research,
I really love teaching, and I would ultimately like to be able to have my own laboratory with
my own graduate students. Most importantly with that, I would like to be a director
of a program like this. – I dream to be a post doc
at the NIH, and be exposed to all of the major research
that goes on there. – I definitely think the
Bridge Program has helped me at least crack my potential. I haven’t reached my full
potential, but I think it has at least helped me get to
where I think I can have a career in research, and I
actually like cancer research. I’m currently working on breast cancer, so I’m heavily considering doing my post-doctoral fellowship at
a cancer research institute. – I believe with all of
our help, we all will leave here being the best
scientists possible, just by the expertise that we’re able
to share with each other. So that’s the community,
and kind of the networking, and the support system
that we’d like to offer to all graduate students of color.

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